Recently in Online education Category

Resource - Writing Learning Objectives

Identifying unit learning objectives that are clear and measurable is often a difficult task for faculty and instructors. At the same time, scholarship and research show the importance of measurable learning objectives. Many best practices in teaching and learning, especially in online teaching and learning, state the importance of clear, measurable learning objectives.

The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at Penn State has a great collection of resources to help faculty develop learning objectives. The Synthesis Worksheet is especially useful to guide mapping unit outcomes, the cognitive task (based on Bloom's taxonomy), how the unit will be taught, and how student learning will be assessed.

What other resources have you found helpful in writing learning objectives?

Some of you might already have been using Google hangout, the online face-to-face chatting tool.

I think Google hangout can be used as a live online teaching/learning tool because you can present learning content to others while discussing online.

Note that you can chat with up to 9 people in Google hangout, though. So Google hangout may be better for small group discussions than whole class lecturing.

There are two ways in which you can present your content (for example, ppt slides) in Google hangout. You can share your screen itself or share slides using SlideShare app.

First, sharing screen is simple. When you start Google hangout, you can see 'Chat', 'Invite', 'App' and 'Screenshare' in the menu bar.

By clicking 'Screenshare', you can choose and share your computer screen with the people you invite. Whatever you have in your computer screen including power point slides and Youtube video will be on your friends or students' screens, too.

Below is the screenshot image of sharing a computer screen in the Google hangout. You can see a Youtube video is being played in the screen.

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And if you want to use SlideShare app, you need to first upload your slides into SlideShare. Then after starting google hangout, click 'App' menu then choose 'SlideShare' app. And you need to search and select the presentation slides you uploaded to share with others.

Below is a screenshot image of using SlideShare app in Google hangout.

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Visit here for more information for using SlideShare in Google hangout.

The result of U of M iPad Project


College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at U of M initiated an iPad pilot project in 2010 fall, providing iPad for the entire freshman class (about 450 undergraduate students) in the college. (If you want to know more about the project, read this previous blog posting)

Now the college published a Year One report explaining what they learned from the project.

In the report, they explain what they learned from using iPad in classrooms in six broad categories:

1. Reducing the digital divide: Instructors expressed optimism that the iPad could reduce the digital divide in the classroom. They emphasized finding apps that are free or very inexpensive for students.

2. Increased Media Production: Instructors frequently asked students to create media using their iPad, including development of individual photo journals, e-documents, speeches with image projections, short movies on a course theme, photomontages of images, and pictures or videos for class presentation.

3. Increased Personal Productivity: Instructors were positive about the convenience
and ease of accessing email and calendars on the iPad, and many used the iPad to schedule appointments or send email to students "on-the-spot" during class.

4. Increased information Literacy: Instructors and students agree that information access and consumption is one of the primary strengths of the iPad. And students used iPad to do many kinds of class preparation and research activities resulting in increased information literacy of students.

5. Sustainable classroom: To reduce the use and related cost of traditional course materials and to take advantage of the features of the iPad, some faculty, for example, used an e-version of required texts, encouraged students to access and annotate course readings via a reader app, and checked and sent assignments using their iPads.

6. Learning Beyond the classroom: Several faculty members developed curriculum that used the iPad to change the learning context. For example, in an introduction to psychology course students used the portability of the iPad and the college's online survey tool to collect data in the community related to their research questions.

For more information, read the executive summary of the report or the full report.

Open education and credentials

MIT announced it will offer certificates to students who take their online courses but are not enrolled or admitted to MIT. The credential will be from MITx, not MIT, and it looks like students will pay to receive the credential.

Higher education is an ecosystem of educational content, interaction with instructors/experts, interactions with students, credentials, and accreditation (and likely more that I am not thinking of at the moment). Until all of those aspects are addressed, open education will not overtake traditional higher education (both online and on-campus). With this move, MIT is addressing credentials. In a few years, I would not surprised to see other institutions accept MITx credentials as for-credit courses. Which would bring some form of accreditation, albeit secondarily.


More dropout in online classes: What should we do?

According to a study, it was found that the drop-out rate was higher in online classes than in traditional classes. Interestingly, there was no big difference between hybrid classes and traditional classes.

Why is that? All the comments of readers on an Inside Higher Ed article citing the study provide many insightful ideas and reasons for that.

First, students in online classes tend to have more burdens on their shoulders. They face time pressure by work and family obligations. Many single mothers, for example, begin writing papers when everything else is done and after every other work and family needs have been met. They can't invest time enough to study and can't take advantage of available university supports.

Second, the higher drop-out rate in online classes may result from poor instructions and course designs. Some instructors just throw a bunch of powerpoint slides and reading materials online, and give students assignments that students submit electronically. And they consider it online courses.

Third, more self-discipline is required for online courses. However good tools are used, online courses are not face-to-face classes. Students have to plan their learning hours and study schedule on their own. A reader (who seemed to be an online course instructor) said that it was students on 30's (parents with jobs) that showed the highest level of learning outcome. That is because they are usually self-disciplined and know the value of their education. The problematic students were the traditional freshmen who had no idea how to manage their time and had little self-discipline.

So then, what should we do to reduce the dropout rate? Three things were mainly suggested in the article.

First, faculty training. Faculty teaching online courses should take pedagogy training for online education. In order to engage students and foster interactions between the instructor and students, different approaches are needed including utilizing various instructional technologies.

(If you want to learn more about U of M resources and services for online instructors including Quality Matters, click here. And there is a podcast named as "Faculty Development for Online Teaching" on U of M iTunes U podcast)

Second, assessing student readiness. Universities should invest in a readiness assessment that provides the student with great insight as to his/her strengths and weakness along with providing support resources. In addition, students should be required to take a technical assessment prior to enrolling to find out if they have the skills they need to successfully navigate an online class.

(Visit the online learning assessment page in U of M digital campus web site)

Third, much more support. Many agreed that online courses should not be seen as a cash cow. In order to create high quality online classes, it takes as much investment as traditional classes. Once online quality is established within an institution, it will then be possible to come up with ways to save some money with online, but not before.

What online instructors would like to say to students (part 2)

At the Minnesota elearning summit this year, I had the chance to 'read' the minds of several online instructors when they were asked an important question, "What would you like to say to online learners?"

Below is the continuation of the list of comments that instructors would like to say to students (Read part 1 here):

  • Online courses are not easier than traditional courses

This is perhaps one of the most common misconception about online learning. The workload for online and offline classes is usually the same, and can sometimes be even more demanding to make up for the lack of group exercises, discussions and activities typical in a classroom setting. The University of Minnesota online programs are equivalent to the on-campus degree programs, generally with the same instructors, program requirements, and curriculum. As a result, the online courses at UMN are not any easier, and require the same amount of work and dedication as a classroom-based course.

Many students report that online courses require that they be more disciplined, self-motivated and independent in order to complete readings and assignments on time. Students who lack those qualities may in fact find online courses much more difficult than traditional courses.

At the end of the day, whether an online course is easy or hard really depends on many factors such as the individual student's comfort in an online environment, the level of engagement in the course, and the difficulty of the course materials. Students who assume that a course is easier just because it is offered online would definitely be in for a rude awakening.

Sources: Are online courses easier than campus classes?; Are online classes are easier than traditional classes?; FAQ: General questions

  • I might need a few days to respond to your questions

It is not uncommon for many online students to expect an email reply from their instructors minutes after sending out an email, especially if they notice that the instructor is online. This is especially the case when an assignment deadline or test date is near. It is important to recognize that many instructors teach more than one course and often have many emails to reply to. As a result, they may not always have the time to reply to your email minutes after you send it. To ensure that your instructor replies to you on time, do not wait till the last minute to look at the requirements for the assignment or test.

  • Just because a course is online does not mean it has less involvement or less interaction

This is another commonly held misconception about online learning. It is a rare online course at the University that does not require interaction between students, often through discussion boards, group assignments, shared readings, and even small group synchronous chats. The level of interaction will depend on how the course is designed by the instructor. National research shows that students who feel engaged and connected to their classmates and instructor are more likely to succeed in online courses, so the group activities serve an important purpose.

  • Do not be quitters!

As with any course, traditional or online, to be a successful student requires determination, keeping a positive attitude and believing in yourself. If at first you do not succeed, understand what went wrong, make efforts to learn from the mistakes, pick yourself up and then try again. Never be afraid to ask for help if you are having problems understanding the course materials, and knowing your learning style will definitely make learning a lot easier.

Take a survey to help determine your study habits and learning preferences. Also, read here for characteristics of a successful online learner.

Get the complete picture. Read part 1 of this article.

What online instructors would like to say to students (part 1)

0-postitnotes-postitdiecutpads-bulbballoonpostitnote33_sm.jpgAs a student (not too long ago), I remembered thinking that it would be really nice if I could read the minds of my instructors so as to know their expectations, thoughts and strategies about how to become a successful online learner. Oftentimes instructors are good at communicating their expectations to students and are always willing to share resources and strategies to help students improve.

However, as students we tend to have our own preconceived notion of how things are and how they work, and sometimes those notions are wrong. For instance, I often hear people say that online classes are less demanding or that they are less interactive and personal than traditional classes. Those are common misconceptions, and cannot be farther from the truth.

At the Minnesota elearning summit this year, I finally had the chance to 'read' the minds of several online instructors when they were asked an important question, "What would you like to say to online learners?"

Below is a list of comments that instructors would like to say to students:

  • Having good time management is important

Knowing how to effectively use and manage your time is an important factor for success. One of the many benefits of taking an online course is flexibility and convenience - you don't have to drive to campus three times a week at specific times. However, that means the onus is on you to stay on top of the assignments and understand the course materials, which means it is crucial that you manage your time wisely. This time management quiz can help you recognize how you spend your time and strategies you can use to manage your time better.

  • Read first, ask later

Understand that your instructor is very busy and most likely teaching more than one course. While many instructors would gladly answer questions that you may have about the assignments or course requirements, it is always important to read the syllabus thoroughly. It also reflects well on you when you demonstrate initiative and resourcefulness.

The same can be said about assignments and course materials. Asking questions when the answers can be found in the course material is a dead giveaway to instructors that you have not read the required materials. Asking clarifying questions is always encouraged but be sure to demonstrate knowledge of the subject such as referencing examples or key concepts when asking a question. That way, the instructor will know that you have read the materials.

  • Prioritize assignments and do not procrastination

If you wait till the final hour to complete your assignments, chances are the quality of your work will not be very good. With so many assignments, course readings and quizzes to complete, prioritizing them can help you reduce stress and worry. Create a to-do list to help you get organized.

Understand if your procrastination is related to a project, assignment or simply a habit. For example, does your procrastination stem from a feeling of being overwhelmed because you don't feel you understand the material well enough to complete the assignment? The remedy to that is different than if your procrastination is a regular habit. This study guide offers strategies on how to overcome procrastination.

  • Let me know if there is a life changing moment that leads to your absence from the class for a time

Life happens and most online instructors understand that some things in life are really beyond your control. However, if you are not willing to speak up and explain your situation, they will not be able to help you. Many non-verbal cues are absence in an online environment, which makes it difficult for online instructors to know if you are having problems. Instead of dropping the course or not logging in for long periods of time, speak to the instructor.

To continue reading, click here for part 2

Succeed in online learning: 5 essential skills

Planning to take an online course or currently enrolled in an online program? If so, An Introduction to Online Learning, a new website for online learners, is a great resource to have.

Learn and tune up the five essential skills you would need to be successful in an online course or program: Learning styles, computer skills, time management, staying focused and utilizing web tools.

This site is complete with entertaining and informative videos, presentations and podcasts as well as to-do checklists to keep you on task. The journal activities and tutorials will also help you learn the materials more efficiently and successfully.

Learning essential skills to be successful in an online course has never been easier and more fun. Remember to bookmark this website!

Online instructor shares best practices for teaching online

books-on-comp.jpegTeaching a hybrid or online course requires different teaching strategies, in part because instructional methods can feel limited to the technology tools available. Using the tools commonly available in a course management system, like discussion, glossary and wikis to engage students and achieve positive learning results can feel like a major challenge. Choosing the appropriate activities and relevant tools to meet specific learning objectives is especially important in learning environments where face-to-face contact is limited or non-existent.

To provide an example of an instructor's success in creating meaningful learning activities using the tools in Moodle, Digital Campus spoke to Tani Bialek, an online instructor of 6 years. Bialek teaches both online and hybrid courses and has experienced firsthand the benefits of using technology to increase engagement and participation. She shares some of her best practices as well as useful advice to instructors considering teaching online.

Quality Matters at the University of Minnesota - An Update

The University of Minnesota piloted Quality Matters in the fall of 2009. Since then, nearly 100 faculty and staff from four campuses have participated in Quality Matters trainings, and several have served as peer reviewers of online courses at other institutions.

The Quality Matters rubric is based on best practices and research on instructional design and student experiences in online courses. Aspects of the rubric will be familiar to people who have some experience with instructional design practice and theory. Even people who are familiar with instructional design have found the QM rubric helpful. As a rubric, it provides an easy-to-use tool to review aspects of an online course that directly effect student engagement and learner outcomes.

The rubric is also flexible: faculty who want to address specific aspects of the student experience in their online course can focus on the standards in the rubric that relate to those areas.

An updated Quality Matters rubric will be released in June 2011. In the meantime, if you would like to participate in a training or learn more about Quality Matters, contact Amanda Rondeau at or 612-624-5732.

On a quest for the most readers: Open access to research articles

Can you have your cake and eat it? Julie Kelly and Kristine Fowler think that is possible. They explain the routes a researcher can take to balance the conundrum between getting published in highly regarded but expensive journals that few have access to and reaching the widest number of readers.

For more information about 20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event, see That web page provides an overview of the event and links to the Google Site.

Go to Harvard for Free


A new book examines why high-ranking universities, such as MIT, Yale and Harvard, are offering free online classes.

Unlocking the Gates, by Taylor Walsh traces the evolution of opening these elite institutions to more students and what it may mean to the future of higher education. Walsh contends that although these universities don't offer credit or degrees for students completing the free online courses, the trend may foreshadow changes in the way all universities approach teaching and learning. She also asserts these online courses may lead to substantial innovations in how education is delivered and consumed.

Walsh is a research analyst with Ithaka S+R, the research division of the nonprofit Ithaka consulting group, which supported the project together with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She was recently interviewed in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the interview Walsh talks about Carnegie Mellon and its Open Learning Initiative (OLI). Walsh is quoted in the Chronicle as saying;

"There's not much "edu-tainment" to be found in the Carnegie Mellon courses. It's really about wanting to learn introductory statistics, and going step-by-step through these modules influenced by cognitive science. It's not going to attract the volume of usage, or necessarily the attention from reporters, that a much more easily consumable humanities lecture video might. ... The concept of a sophisticated learning environment, in which a learner can really master concepts without the support of a live instructor--I think that will endure. If anything, we'll see more of it. The ability to deploy an environment like that could really allow universities to teach a great deal of students at a very high level of efficacy and quality, while saving space and faculty time."

Walsh says she sees signs that many highly selective public universities are changing the way they deliver some basic courses. "The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill [is moving] their introductory Spanish course to online only, and then the project out of California to pilot a set of online courses that could be used to teach undergraduates throughout the UC system. Should experiments like those go well, that could really constitute a major vote of confidence in the medium of online teaching," Walsh told the Chronicle.

virtual graduation.jpgHardly a stranger to technologies that help online distance learning students feel more connected, Florida State University's College of Communication & Information held its first-ever virtual graduation ceremony for online students last year.

According to an article in EDUCAUSE Quarterly Magazine, the college has been exploring a variety of methods to establish better connection with its online distance learning students. Methods have included e-mail lists, photo archives, wikis, social networking sites, extending on-campus events to online students via web streaming and even incorporating voice and visuals into its live online classes. In the college's more recent attempts to involve distance learning students and to foster a sense of belonging, distance learning students were able to attend their graduation ceremony regardless of their geographical locations. Logging in as avatars in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life, distance learning students wore graduation caps and gowns, and received their degrees on stage as the avatars of their family, friends and faculty members cheered and applauded loudly for them.

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Marking a milestone in a person's life, graduation ceremony is perhaps one of the most anticipated events in the lives of many college students. As most graduation ceremonies take place in-person and on-campus, many online distance students find it too costly, time-consuming and difficult to attend their graduation. Holding a virtual graduation ceremony, as FSU has exemplified, is an excellent way to include distance learners in the celebration of their achievement as students. The virtual ceremony proved a huge success with attendees. According the article, many graduating students valued the immersive and participatory nature of the experience and were happy to be able to attend their graduation ceremony, even if it's just virtually. Not unlike real world graduation ceremonies, friends and family of the graduating students were also able to share in this joyous occasion by logging in as avatars or watching over the graduating students' shoulders on their computers.

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Not only did distance learning students respond positively to the ceremony but faculty members as well. Faculty members who were unable to attend and speak live at the virtual event gave an audio recording of their speech, which was used at appropriate moments in the ceremony. The college has since received questions from current distance learners eager to know when future virtual graduation ceremonies would be held as they look ahead to their own graduation.

Though the virtual ceremony was considered a success, some graduating students were prevented from participating due to issues related to bandwidth and hardware incompatibility. Other technical difficulties experienced by FSU were related to the choice of location for the virtual ceremony. For instance, controlling the movements of the avatar proved to be challenging for inexperienced users, making it difficult for them to perform certain actions and going to designated areas.

While FSU may not be the first institution to stage a virtual graduation ceremony, other institutions include Bryant & Stratton College and The University of Edinburg, it will very likely not be the last as many institutions continue to seek ways to better connect with their online students.

woman on phone.jpgWhen we think of solutions for supporting student retention and engagement, we tend to think of strategies that employ the use of sophisticated technologies, learning management systems, and/or software that are usually informed by equally sophisticated data mining methods such as Purdue's Signals project, University of Phoenix's Learning Genome Project and nudge analytic. While the role action analytic, advanced technologies and 'intelligent' LMS play in increasing student retention is highly critical and cannot be ignored, these initiatives also require a lot of resources and time to develop.

What about the here and now?

As proven by the University of Illinois at Springfield, and Dunlap and Lowenthal of the University of Colorado, Denver, strategies that involve interpersonal interaction can also greatly support student engagement and retention. By effectively enhancing students' sense of connection with their instructors and courses, students are more likely to be motivated and stay motivated. The good news is these strategies harness the resources that most people already have.

In a recent Educause Quarterly Magazine article, Dunlap and Lowenthal share communication strategies for establishing personal one-on-one relationships between online students and faculty. Instead of using high-tech software or sophisticated learning platform systems, Dunlap focuses on low-technology devices that almost all faculty and students now have at their disposal - telephone and email.

A brief phone conversation at the start of the course can go a very long way in establishing a sense of connection and building a foundation for trust, Dunlap explains. This is because a phone conversation about the course usually ends up being a very individualized discussion where students talk about work and families. Through this conversation, instructors might be alerted to issues that might affect the student's performance in the course such as hectic travel schedule, family or job responsibilities. Consequently, it allows instructors to preamp possible distractions and disruptions to the student's progress in the course. A phone conversation also allows the instructor to establish him or herself as a reliable source of feedback and support.

Establishing ongoing, one-on-on communication throughout the course is not an easy feat and may not be practical for some instructors due to their busy schedules. However, this type of support is often critical to students' success. Furthermore, the benefits are clear - opening the gates of communication enhances student retention in the course because it allows instructors to address individual student needs and provide individualized feedback. As Dunlap has discovered, never underestimate the power of building relationships between faculty and students, which can be achieved by using even the most simple and mundane of technologies.

Faculty and staff at the University of Illinois Online program would likely agree with professor Dunlap. In another article in the Educause Quarterly Magazine, the University of Springfield attribute their high retention and complete rates (equivalent to and sometimes even exceed those in their corollary on-campus degree programs) in the online degree programs to the strong relationship among staff, faculty and students.

Program coordinators & peer mentors

peer mentoring.jpgIn order to build trust and support students, UIS encourages the use of program coordinators in each degree program. Program coordinators play a crucial role in students' success by keeping track of their schedules and progress towards degree completion and intervene when they think the student's progress might be in jeopardy. They support students who face challenges in their courses and advocate for them on administrative and bureaucratic matters.

In addition to program coordinators, UIS also implemented an online peer-mentoring program in which experienced online students act as role models. They answer questions about the course and facilitate discussions. The whole point of UIS mentoring program is for less experienced students to observe and hopefully, model after the behavior of successful online students. This strategy has proven to be effective. In a project to study the effects of peer mentors on student retention, UIS with the partnership of seven other Illinois community colleges, discovered that the non-completion rate in the courses studied was reduced and more importantly, student success rate improved.

As Dunlap and Lowenthal, along with UIS have exemplified, some of the most effective strategies do not always involve complex equations, super-advanced technologies and LMS.

Bookless in Seattle


A Washington State program to bring low-cost, college material online is facing some challenges. The Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges began the Open Course Library as a way to help the state's half a million students in two-year colleges save the estimated $1,000 for books each year.

The project received a $750,000 matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation so Web designers from around the state could create ready-to-use digital course modules for the 81 highest-enrolled courses. The cost for the course materials is capped at $30.

According to the Open Course Library directive, material must be available to online and accessible to anyone. Other stipulations include, "Faculty designers, hired for their teaching experience and expertise in the subject, can use material from anywhere and anyone, as long as they abide by licensing agreements. Instructors can then use and revise the material as they see fit, dropping and adding components to customize the course for their own students."

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports the $30 cap is proving to be daunting. A lot of things that are open are old," said Melonie D. Rasmussen, who teaches at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, in Lakewood, Wash. "Or they are open and strange. She remembers a 1980s math book posted online that refers to VCR's. It would take more time to explain what a VCR was than the math itself, she joked.

The Chronicle spoke to a North Seattle Community College philosophy professor who is frustrated because the five books he wants his students to use would break the $30 bank. The professor reports he is "flummoxed."

A Bellevue College chemistry professor says she and her colleagues are concerned that the $30 cap may mean their students won't be able to get the needed supplemental materials to explain basic science concepts.

Cable Green, of the state community-college board, is quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education as saying, "The Open Course Library is very much a work in progress, and may always be. Indeed, its success depends upon the academic community to continually review, revise, and improve the courses, and then post them back online for others." (The idea of freely sharing information, he concedes, might just be the more challenging cultural shift.)

But "getting there" is not in question, Green told The Chronicle. He says he's been blunt with textbook publishers and has encouraged them to get on board if they can.

"You saw what happened with Craigslist and newspapers," he told The Chronicle, referring to the free classified advertising that has helped force some newspapers out of business and required others to reinvent themselves. "We are going to get there with or without you."

Connecting students across cultural & national borders

global with many computers connected.jpgFew people would deny the benefits of exchange programs, especially programs that equip students with a more international outlook. In a future that will likely be characterized by global partnerships, skills and knowledge in cross-cultural competency are increasingly seen as valuable assets. Unfortunately, the ability to embark on a foreign exchange program is still enjoyed by a small segment of the student population because such programs are often very costly and time-consuming. A nonprofit organization, Connect, aims to change that with its 10-week program of facilitated online discussions between students from Western and Muslim countries, as reported in The Chronicle.

Creators of Connect believe that their program offers some of the crucial benefits of a traditional exchange program, such as intercultural discussions, but on a much more affordable and sustainable basis. The opportunity to interact with someone from a different country has greatly benefitted some participants of the Connect program. Many participants said that the program has taught them to be more thoughtful and deliberate in expressing their views on culturally sensitive topics as well as challenged participants' previously held stereotypes.

The multipolar discussion is one of the most compelling aspects of the program, allowing participants to openly discuss culturally sensitive topics such as terrorism, Islamophobia, religion, social customs, the veil and current affairs within a safe space. Through such discussions, participants witness the diverse opinions within the West and Muslim world instead of seeing them as simply divided or bipolar opposites.

Much like any other programs, this program is not without its problems. The biggest challenges to the program have been language and technology barriers. As English is the language of instruction, only English speakers can participate, which means that only a select group of students are able to reap the benefits of this program. Furthermore, in several non-Western countries, participants also face infrastructure problems. Faced with connection problems on campus, it is not uncommon for participants to adjourn to a nearby cybercafé to get better connection.

Despite these challenges, the creators of Connect remain hopeful that their model will catch on in other parts of the world because it can be easily replicated. Mr. Welch, co-founder of Soliya, the nonprofit organization behind Connect, hopes that larger institutions will be interested in hiring Soliya to develop more online exchange programs. As a fervent believer in the transformative power of cross-cultural experience, Welch believes that "some form of cross-culture exchange should be a fundamental part of higher education."

In another part of the world, Rachel Ellet, an assistant professor Political Science and Mouat Junior Professor of International Studies at Beloit College shares the similar interest in connecting students across national borders. Ellet, however, uses a vastly different approach. Born out of her interest in mobilizing students' study abroad experiences to enhance learning back on campus, Ellet piloted a program in which she linked students studying abroad with students back in her classroom in real time. As Ellet explains in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Educause Review, students studying abroad were asked to create and maintain a blog that linked their personal experiences to her course, keep up to date on class readings and to engage in classroom discussions with students on campus via videoconferencing.
This is a win-win situation for students studying abroad and her students back on campus. Having to accomplish tasks relevant to course materials, students living abroad were able to intellectually integrate their experiences abroad. Meanwhile, the students back on campus were able to receive up-to-date real world examples colored by personal experiences.

Similar to problems encountered by the Connect program, Ellet also experienced technical difficulties such as weak audio quality and unreliable Internet connection. Ellet advised instructors who are thinking of bringing the study abroad experience into the classroom in real time to also be aware of time zone differences, which will make scheduling videoconferences a challenge.

These challenges aside, one can expect many more organizations and individuals to come up with innovative ways for students to reap the benefits of a cultural exchange without ever having to cross national borders, especially during a time when more universities face the pressures of preparing truly global citizens with increasingly fewer resources.

More accessible to non-traditional students; just as valuable.

Online classes and degree programs have increased in size and popularity and are becoming more common as public universities continue to add online courses onto their course catalog. Their efforts to introduce more online courses have paid off. Many colleges that offer online courses have seen their online enrollments increased by a substantial amount. Illinois Virtual Campus is one such example. Online enrollments jumped 27% from spring 2009 to spring 2010. Due to increased demand, many chief academic officers now consider online education as critical to their long-term strategy, as reported in an article in Chicago Sun-Times.

Many universities consider online courses a great way to reach non-traditional students. As reported in the article, "What drives many of us in this field is serving the student who cannot come to campus," said Ray Schroeder, a faculty who has taught online courses at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. Students who are unable to make the trip to campus include those with disabilities, military students, students working full time and parents who are just unable to make it to class at a specific time and place. Being able to meet students' needs for flexible access and to reach particular students are the top two motivating factors for online instruction, discovered in a recent survey in The Chronicle.

According to the article, the stigma that online degrees are not worth as much as a traditional degree is fading as the demand for online courses continues to grow, spurred on in large part by well-known schools offering online programs. Online degrees, especially those offered by accredited universities, have also gained acceptance from employers and employer acceptance is now fairly common. Director of Washington County's Division of Human Resources, William Sonnik, said in The Herald-Mail that he "wouldn't be too concerned about the type of degree, as long as it's an accredited school..."

Recognized institutions with online degree programs carry more weight with employers than degrees awarded by lesser known schools. A study by reported that 77 percent of hiring managers say that an online degree received through an established university is more acceptable than a degree earned through a less recognized or Internet-only institution. As more brick-and-mortar institutions begin to offer online programs, more faculty members are beginning to understand the effectiveness and see the value of online instruction. Based on findings by The Sloan Consortium, three quarters of academic leaders at public colleges and universities believe that online learning quality is equal to or superior to face-to-face instruction.

Having online programs offered at accredited institutions such as the University of Minnesota means that more students can now receive an education and earn a degree; students who would otherwise find it extremely difficult to manage both school and job responsibilities. Offering online options either in terms of courses or degrees has really open the doors of education to a much larger group of the population.

Adding a face & voice to online learning

Who says online learning has to be impersonal, detached and a lonely endeavor? Who says online classes are about staring at a screen full of content with minimum interaction with course mates?

Many faculty members are challenging these misconceptions by incorporating technology in their online classes as well as harnessing the capabilities of web 2.0 to increase student engagement and boost online student retention rates. A few faculty members at Lexington Theological Seminary are no exception. Several faculty members at the seminary have introduced technology into its online classes that allows students and faculty to interact via video and audio, as reported in an article by Campus Technology. Known as the MegaMeeting, the program lets instructors show PowerPoint slides, post questions to students on a noteboard application, teach using audio in addition to supporting text chat features.

MegaMeeting's potential for building a sense of community among online students who would otherwise never meet face-to-face is great. Instructors are able to set up virtual rooms (not unlike virtual chat rooms) that are available 24/7 so that students can meet with one another to collaborate on group projects and work on their assignments. One of the faculty members who have been using MegaMeeting said one of the advantages of this program is its ability to let students see the professor and vice versa, which is not (yet) too common in other online programs. In addition, the audio and video features of this program allow students to discuss articles and readings as well as ask questions during lesson time. In typical online courses, students would likely have to do that via emails.

Lexington Theological Seminary has already set up several online communities in its learning management system, which allows students to communication freely with one another about courses and professors without staff intervention. These online communities are Lexington's efforts to foster relationship-building amongst its online learners. However, the method of combining video and audio, and using the program's applications to its fullest in the classroom has enabled faculty members to bring this relationship to a whole new level.

Online learning to the rescue

Colleges reported the highest-ever annual increase in online enrollment--more than 21 percent--last year, according to a report on an annual survey of 2,600 higher-education institutions from the Sloan Consortium and the Babson Survey Research Group, as seen in The Chronicle. The 21% growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2% growth in the overall higher education student population and nearly 30% of all college and university students now take at least one course online. Online learning has truly become a force to be reckoned with.

With an increasing demand for online learning, college administrators at public universities are urging their fellow colleagues to seriously consider online learning as a larger part of the solution to maintaining academic quality and student access amid budget cuts and dwindling state contributions in this tough economy, as reported in an article in The Chronicle. In a pilot program, the University of California will enroll approximately 5,000 undergraduates in high-demand courses next year in what the university hopes will allow them to stay "excellent without becoming exclusionary." The university's commitment to educating middle and lower-income students along with its dire finances are the impetus for this program.

Despite initial reservations by some faculty members to online learning and teaching, more faculty members are starting to see online education as a quality alternative to face-to-face learning. In a special report on online learning in The Chronicle, over 80% of faculty members rate online courses as not being inferior to traditional courses. Faculty members also indicated that the top motivating factor for teaching online courses is meeting students' needs for flexible access and over 70% of faculty members consider it the best way to reach particular groups of students.

The complete report, "Class Differences: Online Education in the United States, 2010", is available here.

Purdue releases course management and retention tool

Purdue University, in partnership with SunGuard Higher Education is releasing a course management system called Signals. Signals was initially tested at Purdue and developed by its associate vice president of Academic Technologies, John Campbell. Like other course management software, it provides space for electronic grading and disseminating course materials, but Signals goes further. Signals is a student retention program, designed to designate struggling students early on in courses, allowing instructors and other academic resources to reach out and provide support.

Signals works by allowing both students and professors to monitor progress and success in a certain course. Color-coded signals--red, yellow, and green like stoplights--indicate a student's risk level for failing the course. The students see these signs whenever they log onto the course's website. Depending on the signal, it offers suggestions and resources. For example, a student doing poorly in chemistry might be reminded by the program of a tutoring program available for schools. The program also reminds professors of their students' progress and gives them options to offer help and insight. For examples of how Signals works, check out this presentation. In addition to the information professors input like grades, Signals also has access to previous student information and grades. It also integrates into existing BlackBoard technology.

In this new story on the software, one professor with 900 students over three lectures praised the software, particularly it's early detection. Signals starts tracking students by the second week of class. Often professors must wait for the first major assignment to realize a student is behind. Overall, professors at Purdue have praised the program. It will be exciting to see how other universities integrate this product, especially with the University of Phoenix moving towards personalized course management (check out TEL Blogger Michelle's post about that here!).

For more information on Signals' release, check out these new stories:
NBC Nightly News Report
"Signals" help studnts stay on track

Want to help students succeed? The answer can be found online.

Start a Home Tutoring Business – The Right Time, The Right Industry.jpgOnline learning resources can potentially be the missing link needed to ensure the success of students, asserts Mark Milliron in The Chronicle. Milliron points out that one of the fastest growing segment of higher education today are non-traditional students such as adult learners and part-time students, among others. Traditional classroom methods aimed at traditional students will not work as well for these students who require more flexibility and convenience to manage their work-study-life commitments. Institutions' teaching methods need to evolve and make full use of the online resources at their disposal (or in the market).

In order to help non-traditional students stay in the program, sometimes the solution can be as simple as adding an online section or online component to the course, which can significantly increase the likelihood of success for a working student or parent. This is because having an online alternative to traditional face-to-face courses can help remove barriers that allow students to complete degrees in a time that best fits their schedules. Other tools such as online-learning-management systems can help students improve their academic performance. For instance, Signals project, which is a program that detects early warning signs in the students' academic performance and provides early intervention can help students succeed at higher rates. The program works by giving up-to-the-minute, predictive-model-based feedback in the form of traffic lights--red, yellow, and green, which lets students know how they are performing in a course before it is too late. Some institutions have turned to online student-service support systems such as Atlas/Life map, which is a system that keeps students on track academically, to ensure that they graduate on time. This system was such a hit with students that the institution which implemented it went on to see their graduation rate (almost) triple that of its peer institutions.

Online learning systems can not only help students complete courses, especially gatekeeper courses, and succeed in them, but may sometimes even help those students outperform their peers who took the same courses the traditional way. In fact, a 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that students who took all or part of their classes online performed better than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction, as reported in another article in The Chronicle. In addition to the opportunities for meeting learner needs, the ability to attract new students also is great, said The Chronicle. Institutions such as Central Penn have seen a substantial increase of 97% (average) in new student enrollments per term after implementing the Blackboard Learn system. The above results are hardly surprising since online learning systems and tools can provide a rich and supportive learning experience for students, which has allowed online education to meet the needs of so many students.

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.

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.

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.

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

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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.

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.

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.

Learning platform: Great resource tool for online learners

Great technology tool to help students stay organized and keep track of their classes and progress as well as manage their busy schedules. Students can access itunes U, student discussion boards, professor contact information and library materials.

This is a wonderful tool to use especially if you are not on campus. You can access the learning platform from anywhere with an internet connection. In fact, with its rich features, you can access almost every necessary resources you may need as a student without ever having to leave the comfort of your home or coffee shop or where ever else you may be!

Online students use the learning platform all the time to stay in touch with professors, interact with fellow course mates, download course materials and upload assignments and keep track of their academic progress.

Faculty tech selector: how-to and why you should use it.

The Faculty Technology Selector is a tool that makes it easy for instructors to share online and digital resources with students in myU.

Lois Eaton, an instructor in the Kinesiology department shares her experiences with the tech selector. She uploaded videos onto the portal and students can view it at their leisure instead of having to check out the lecture video from the library. Instructors can easily associate websites, electronic media, wiki and class messages with each class they are teaching.

Completely sold on this idea but do not know how to use the technology selector? This video provides a step-by-step guide to use the selector.

U.S. Military to Scrutinize Online, For-profit Colleges

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The U.S. Defense Department wants to launch a new program to increase scrutiny of online, for-profit colleges that are attracting a growing number of U.S. troops.

Concerns about the quality and cost of online education rise as more military members take advantage of tuition assistance programs from the federal government, according to a Bloomberg article. Many troops are attracted to online education options because of flexible class schedules and it gives them access to college courses even while they are deployed in battle zones.

About 380,000 active-duty service members will get tuition assistance this year, according to Representative Vic Snyder, an Arkansas Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee. About 40 percent of the $580 million in tuition assistance for active-duty service members in fiscal 2010 went to online, for-profit colleges and 70 percent of the total was for all online programs, Snyder said in the Bloomberg article.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows former students at for-profit schools default on student loans about twice as often as those from non-profit schools. "While for-profit schools have profited and prospered thanks to federal dollars, some of their students have not. Far too many for-profit schools are saddling students with debt they cannot afford in exchange for degrees and certificates they cannot use. This is a disservice to students and taxpayers, and undermines the valuable work being done by the for-profit education industry as a whole," U.S Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said.

In award year 2008-09, students at for-profit schools represented 26 percent of the borrower population and 43 percent of all defaulters, according to a U.S Department of Education report.

Congressman Vic Snyder's subcommittee held a hearing on troops utilizing online education sites in September and hopes to draft a policy in final form as early as December. The policy would require online colleges to undergo the same reviews as ground campuses that operate on U.S. military bases, according to the Undersecretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy.

Online education programs cost about 28 percent more than comparable courses taught on ground campuses in fiscal year 2009, the Director of Force Development for the U.S. Air Force said in the Bloomberg article. He added many online programs charge the maximum per credit hour, $250, that institutions are allowed.

Minnesota U.S Senator Al Franken, a democrat, is on the record defending more scrutiny of for-profit colleges.

"We're studying these for-profit institutions for a reason ... because the numbers are so outlandish, and if we are truly talking about saving money ... we ought to be going after the low hanging fruit and that's what this appears to be.... I think we've located a place where there are (a lot) of bad actors," Franken said in a USA Today article.

The executive officer of the Career College Association, a Washington-based industry group, said, for-profit colleges would welcome quality evaluations for their military programs.

Online learning might be a better alternative for some students.

In an experiment that compared the same introductory economics course that was taught online and in a lecture hall, it was discovered that "online learning on average beat face-to-face teaching by a modest but statistically meaningful margin," as reported in a New York Times article.

With the ability to hit pause and rewind the tape to take notes, this gives the students in the online class an advantage over their peers in the classroom who have to pay attention to the lecturer while frantically taking notes. Those who have had to speed-write in a lecture class back in the day would know that listening and taking notes simultaneously is no easy feat!

However, this article also takes a cautionary tone explaining that online learning is not necessarily for everyone despite its benefits and convenience. As the article points out, "certain groups did notably worse online. Hispanic students online fell nearly a full grade lower than Hispanic students that took the course in class. Male students did about a half-grade worse online, as did low-achievers, which had college grade-point averages below the mean for the university." This reinforces the common knowledge that some students are better suited for online learning than others. This is not to say that they are inherently better or wired differently but the profile of successful online learners typically are self-directed, independent, resourceful and highly motivated. Ironically, the very benefits of online learning such as the time-shifting convenience and flexibility might in fact lead to the academic demise of students who are less self-motivated.

However, if you have the right attitude towards learning, online courses might in fact better serve you than classroom teaching, as this experiment has shown. Not sure if online learning is right for you? Why don't you take the online learning assessment and find out?

Community colleges see major distance learning growth

While distance -- primarily online -- education at higher ed institutions grew significantly between 2007 and 2008, it appears it grew even more at community colleges in particular. Between the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 academic years, distance education grew 22 percent at community colleges, compared with a 17 percent growth in all distance education between fall 2007 and fall 2008, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Experts say online classes -- especially those offered through community colleges -- appeal to people looking for work, who may be the victim of the recession and difficult job market. Not only do distance and online classes boost job seekers' skills, but they also offer the flexibility people are looking for when they're uncertain about whether they'll find a job in a week, a month, or a year.

To go green, go online


One very important thing is missing from many online classes: paper! Perhaps the most obvious environmentally friendly characteristic of online education is the lack of required paper consumption by students, who can see all course content, manage their notes, turn in assignments, and take tests electronically.

But online education is also helping the environment in another important way: energy. And running a traditional campus--its buildings, computers, maintenance--takes a lot of it. Dr. Omer Pamukcu, a department chair and professor at the all-online University of Phoenix, gives some highlights:

• Traditional colleges and universities spend, on average, $2 billion a year on energy.

• Commercial buildings, including those at colleges and universities, produce about half of the carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.--and nearly a third of the energy in commercial buildings is wasted.

• Online learning uses nearly 90 percent less energy and produces 85 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than traditional campus-based courses, according to a study by the Design Innovation Group.

Who does best in online classes?

16473113.jpgA wide variety of students engage in e-learning, from high school students to parents looking for a career boost -- and they use and engage with it in many different ways.

But research shows that certain types of students are most likely to succeed in an e-learning environment. These are:

  • Motivated learners, who are proactive and have sticktoitiveness
  • Autonomous learners, who can self-regulate and control their own learning experiences
  • Learners of all ages, with the motivation and autonomy to succeed

The research has implications for course instructions, too. They may want to work into their course design some elements that help students self-monitor, and be mindful to set progressive deadlines. Instructors may, when possible, want to incorporate real-time chats, lectures or other synchronous course elements, encourage reflection and foster interactivity.

For more information, read the full literature review in eLearn Magazine.

E-learning to be worth $50 billion by 2014


If the analysts are right, the field of e-learning only has one way to go: up.

A new report by research firm Ambient Insight calculated the dollar value of e-learning to be $27.1 billion in 2009--and predicts that to nearly double to almost $50 billion by 2014.

The boom is thanks, in large part, to academic institutions. In higher ed, for-profit e-learning institutions are and will continue to be major players, and a slow economy has likely fueled the e-learning trend.

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.

Chemistry 1015 Course Goes Online


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.

Report finds 1 in 4 students taking online course

The Sloan Consortium released the results of its annual survey on the state of online learning in higher ed today--and not surprisingly, more students than ever before are attending classes from the comfort of their computers.

Some of the highlights:

  • Over 4.6 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2008 term; a 17 percent increase over the number reported the previous year.

  • The 17 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 1.2 percent growth of the overall higher education student population.

  • More than one in four college and university students now take at least one course online.

For more, read the full report.

The Baltimore Sun profiled an older, working adult student completing his degree mostly online at the University of Maryland University Campus.

The student, Kerry Brandt, noted something we often hear from students in online classes; namely, that he worked harder and experienced a lot of benefits from the online format, beyond just convenience.

Learning from Online

Inside Higher Ed

Learning From Online
December 7, 2009

Most professors agree that more work goes into designing an online course than a face-to-face one. But if those professors are interested in improving their teaching skills, it might be worth the extra effort.

So say researchers at Purdue University at Calumet, who believe that learning how to do distance education properly can make professors better at designing and administering their classroom-based courses.

"Most of the professors who teach at the university level have had no experience with pedagogy or instruction in general," says Janet Buckenmeyer, chair of the instructional technology master's program at Calumet. "They're content experts, not teaching experts."

Since most professors have spent their lives holding forth from the front of a lecture hall, many have not had to engineer their lesson plans with the sort of rigor required of a well-designed online course, Buckenmeyer says.

When teaching online, she says, "You have to pay more attention to the navigation of the course, the clarity of the course, the objectives of the course, the reason why you're assigning activities and assessments, [and make] certain everything is perfectly clear to the students. In a face-to-face situation, you can get by with just coming in and not having prepared and winging a class session. You can't do that online."

Or rather, you can't do that online if you expect students to learn well. "You can develop a really bad online course," says Buckenmeyer, without necessarily knowing it. In order to teach well online, she says, professors need guidance.

That was the thesis behind the creation of Calumet's Distance Education Mentoring Project. The project takes faculty who are looking to adapt their classroom courses to the online environment and teams them up with Web-savvy colleagues. Those mentors advise the novices on best practices for online course design and oversee them through the first semester of the online version of the course. (An article detailing the project, authored by Buckenmeyer and two colleagues, is scheduled to appear in the January issue of the International Journal of E-Learning.)

Emily Hixon, an assistant professor of educational psychology at Calumet, is collaborating with Buckenmeyer and others to explore more formally how distance-education mentoring programs might affect professors' teaching principles. While their research is still "in its infancy" -- they are currently waiting on survey results -- they state in a research brief that "there seems to anecdotal evidence that many faculty members experience shifts in pedagogical beliefs after developing and teaching an online course."

The Calumet researchers plan to present their preliminary findings at the annual meeting
of the American Educational Research Association in April.

One of the researchers, Casimir Barczyk, a veteran professor at the Calumet school of
management, is an alumnus of the Distance Education Mentoring Project. He says he was
leery of the program at first, but was won over in the process of adapting a course on
human resources management to the Web, and joined the research team about nine
months later.

Barczyk had been a professor at the management school for more than two decades, including eight years teaching courses online, when he was instructed to undergo mentoring after students habitually dropped out of his online courses, or gave them poor reviews.

"I was skeptical," Barczyk says. "I said, 'What can I possibly learn -- I'm a full professor, I've been doing classroom education for over 20 years, I've been doing online education for about eight years, so what can I possibly learn?' "

What he learned was how to engineer assignments and assessments toward explicit educational objectives. If Barczyk needs students to learn how to think analytically about hiring rubrics, for example, he would not use simple true or false question to evaluate their progress.

After learning the value of objectives-oriented course design in his online courses, he applied the same principles to the classroom courses he had taught for decades. Student performance improved in both, he says.

-- Steve Kolowich

Two New, Fully Online Programs Added to the Digital Campus

The Digital Campus recently added two new, fully online bachelor's degree programs: Manufacturing Management - Quality Management and Marketing.

Both of these programs are housed at the University of Minnesota - Crookston.

If it has been a while since you visited the Digital Campus, you may be surprised by the growing number of fully online and hybrid program offerings.

News: What Doomed Global Campus? - Inside Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed has a well-rounded piece on the downfall of the University of Illinois Global Campus. The Global Campus had millions in funding and a mandate from the president to make online learning a new revenue stream for the system. The original model called for the development of an additional campus, independently accredited, that would compete with the other UI campuses.

The faculty senates at all campuses rejected the plans, and the Global Campus needed to work in partnership with departments and campuses in order to move forward. In many ways, the waters might have already been poisoned, as few departments wanted to work with Global Campus and have their program stamped with Global Campus and possibly give up control of their curriculum.

Another issue is the model of growth the Global Campus used. Nicholas Burbules, a faculty member involved in the development of Global Campus noted:
"What we learned from this process, and what we're doing now, is a very different model of development, which is to start with very successful online courses and programs... then exploring how we can grow and scale up those programs, as opposed to creating a superstructure and then saying we need to create programs to pay off the initial investment," Burbules said. "It's basically a bottom-up versus top-down approach."

The importance of partnership in developing online programs and courses and sustaining them over time is clear. Faculty need to be at the table and be engaged actors in the process over time.

The Department of Education recently released their overview of a number of quantitative studies that have attempted to glean the impact of blended and online instruction on student learning.

For time-strapped readers, Inside Higher Ed (June 29, 2009) offers the following summary of the report:

The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took "blended" courses -- those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction -- appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment.

Resource Link:
Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies (2009)

In an effort to curb high drop-out rates in online courses, some faculty at universities around the country have taken on the guise of fake students in their own online courses so as to spark discussion, monitor group work, and participate in the building of community.

While such tactics may be intended to address issues such as frustration, isolation, and anxiety, they also open up new questions about the ethical gray areas of privacy, trust, and relationship-building between faculty and students.

Online Professors Pose as Students to Encourage Real Learning--Chronicle of Higher Education

Why Online Learners Drop Out

Serving veterans in online learning programs

Online degrees appealing option for soldiers -

Veterans are finding online learning programs particularity appealing.

Online enrollments continue to climb

As Economy Wavers, Online Enrollments Climb

The newest numbers are available from Sloan, with online enrollments continuing to climb. The number of students taking at least one course online increased by 12.9% from the previous year.

The comments on the post at IHE are interesting as well. I think Gavin Moodie's comment that the distinction between online and face to face instruction will fade over time is a good one.

Degree Completion options at the University of Minnesota

University of Minnesota Digital Campus :: Complete Your Degree Online

The University of Minnesota offers two degree completion programs for students who already have college credits. The two degree programs, BS in Applied Studies and BA or BS in Multidisciplinary Studies, are transfer-friendly for students whose credits are from outside the University of Minnesota.

Learn more about the University of Minnesota's online offerings at the Digital Campus.

Outbreak at WatersEdge - A Public Health Discovery Game

Outbreak at WatersEdge is an online educational game from the School of Public Health. The game explores aspects of Public Health by having the player find the source of a bacteria outbreak in a community. Players are exposed to tools of Public Health professionals and career options in Public Health.

Outbreak at WatersEdge also includes a teachers guide and health career exploration options.

Moodle available at the University of Minnesota

Moodle, the open-source course management software, is now being supported by the University of Minnesota through the Office of Information Technology (OIT). Moodle is an alternative to WebCT, and is being used at colleges and universities in the US and internationally. Currently at the University, there are about 362 courses using Moodle.

Moodle is an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment. It was first released three years ago by a development team in Perth, Australia. As open-source software, Moodle is continually being expanded and improved upon by a network of developers worldwide. Because it is modular, it is relatively easy to add new functionality or specific tools, and can be more customized than typical "out-of-the-box " software.

Any faculty member can use Moodle in their courses. Moodle provides many tools for collaboration and interaction between students and between the professor and students. See below for a list of features available in Moodle.
The University Technology Training Center offers short courses on Moodle. UTTC also has a resource page with useful links, downloadable help materials, and links to helpful print materials.

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