Recently in Teaching with technology Category

Engaging a 2,670-student-class by utilizing technologies

Have you ever taught a large class with 200 or 300 students? If so, you should know how difficult it is to teach a large class.

What about, then, teaching more than 2,000 students in a classroom? How can you handle that?

One recent article in the Chronicle in Higher Education really inspired me to rethink about teaching a large class.

John Boyer, who teaches "World Regions" course at Virginia Tech explores how technology can help engage students from 600 to nearly 3,000 students in a big classroom. And it was shown that students do learn from the class while some people doubt the effectiveness of the class in terms of student learning.

To me, the most interesting thing he does is the 'virtual' office hours.

Before starting the office hours, his assistant sends out alerts through Facebook and twitter. Then, students including his former students attend the office hours either off-line (i.e., come in person and sit in his office couch) or on-line.

Then, he takes questions through instant messages and 'broadcasts' his answers via 'Ustream', a free Web platform that lets anyone broadcast a video feed through a Webcam.

Isn't that cool?

Another way of utilizing technology is to let student tweets tagged with the class hashtag. ,

Also, he often invites students to text their responses to a poll to choose a topic for the day (FYI, 'Chime In' is a similar system developed by the U of M CLA IT group that lets students respond to a poll via internet or text messages).

Oh, and I should tell you one more thing he does. He has been inviting famous people (e.g., Aung San Suu Kyi, a Myanmar's pro-democracy leader) to do a Skype interview in his class. To make that possible, he recorded videos showing the large crowd of students blowing noisemakers and chanting their names and posted them on Youtube.

What a bold and great idea!

I believe it was not only the technologies but also his knowledge in interactive teaching methods that helped engage a large crowd of students into learning.

I think these techniques, especially virtual office hours using Ustream, can be useful in all types of classes (off line, online, or hybrid).

If you have time, I do recommend to read through the original Chronicles of Higher Education article.

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.

Google+ Hangouts-2.jpg

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.

Google+ Hangouts-1.jpg

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


One U of M graduate student recently conducted a study in a secondary school examining the potential of using iPads in classrooms and found a few interesting findings. She visited a secondary school, which had purchased 300 iPads and allowed students to use them in classrooms for learning.

Empowered (but sometimes Distracted) Students
First, the student researcher found that by using iPads, students were empowered to learn on their own. Students could shift their role from passive receivers of knowledge to producers of knowledge. For example, students was encouraged to do a lot of independent inquiry and research using the iPad's web browser or applications. And by doing group project work and presentations, they could inform other classmates and teachers (i.e., project-based and cooperative learning). So the Information seemed to be regarded as permeable and not owned by the teacher. From teachers' perspective, it was necessary to employ both traditional (e.g., lecturing) and non-traditional (e.g., encouraging exploration by students) teaching methods.

While students were empowered, however, it was found that students were also easily distracted when searching through internet and using applications. Teachers should carefully design a way to prevent students from being distracted.

Barriers against effective use of technologies
It was not always easy to utilize the new technology in classrooms. Interestingly, the barriers against effective use of iPads in classrooms were not teachers but school policies and procedures. In a class project that involved designing the distribution and use of iPads in their own school, students could not access the iTunes store to view information, ratings, and pricing, which they needed to complete their project, due to the school policy. And this problem was solved by teachers' downloading the AppHits application for the students. Installing the application onto the classroom's cart of iPads took a few days but worked out great.

Furthering learning gap
A couple of unexpected findings emerged. First, one group of students explained how they had access to iPads at home so they could continue to study or explore information. But one student said that her family is too poor and she wished she had one at home. The school's iPad project does not address the issue. But the researcher hopes to get more insight to this issue from teachers during follow up interviews.

Second unexpected finding was that iPads could "further the achievement gap." The school Principal in the initial interview stated his belief that iPads are furthering the gap. In observing class discussions one teacher noted the increased learning gap between high performing students and low performing students and asked students what they thought about distributing the iPads to the lowest 75 students in each grade to help bridge the gap. Students did not like the idea. One student even said, "they'll just break them"

In sum, according to the ethnographic study, utilizing iPads can bring both benefits and pitfalls to classrooms. Since using iPads in classrooms is just at the beginning stage in schools, we should carefully observe and keep our eyes on those projects.

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.

Video Ant: A video annotation tools

According to a recent article in the Chronicle of the Higher Education, it is found in a new study that many online instructors aren't taking advantage of interactive instructional tools like online video. Instead, the professors are relying on static (i.e., text based) course materials and assignments. These text-based course materials aren't likely to motivate students very much.

For instructors who are using or planning to use video in their courses, I would like to introduce the 'Video Ant (', an easy video annotation tools created by U of M.

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Using video ant, students can critique and annotate their idea about a video on Youtube or Media Mill.

You can find more information and video tutorials of Video Ant in Video Ant Blog.

As an example of utilizing the Video Ant, Tani Bialek, an instructor in OLPD let her online course students find a video on Youtube related to the course topic. And then, students are required to discuss, critique, and annotate it. The annotated videos are then posted on the Moodle site for all students in the course to view.

Read more about Bialek's story in another TEL blog entry.

my Brainshark

I recently attended a workshop held by Center for Teaching and Learning. The workshop introduced several technologies that may be used in classrooms. I will try to share a few among them that I think useful.

my Brainshark


First one is my Brainshark ( This is a free web tool that enables you to create and share multi-media presentations.

A basic use of my Brainshark will be creating a narrated presentation. You just upload your powerpoint slides and record your narration for each page. If there are some animation actions in your slides, my Brainshark shows them, too.

Combination of media

A very nice thing about this is you can mix powerpoint slides (.ppt, .pptx, & .odp), video files (.wmv, .swf, & .flv), and documents (.doc, .docx, .pdf, .xls, .xsx, .odt, & .txt) in one single presentation. And you can add attachment files to the presentation that users can download.

Seeing is believing. Watch an example multimedia presentation by my Brainshark.

Possible usage in the classroom

In-class PowerPoint project presentations are used in many classes. However, they take a lot of class time and are often poorly delivered. As suggested in the workshop, instructors can ask students (or student teams) to create a multimedia presentation. And once uploaded, instructors and other students can view/review the presentations online at anytime.


  • Presentations uploaded in my Brainshark is available to the public. A paid version offers the ability to make presentations private.

  • Uploads of individual content files are limited to 200MB.

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.

iWant, iHave, iCan

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The exciting adventure of iPads & Education & how the people in the college of Education & Human Development have and are experiencing the iPad. Austin Stair Calhoun explains how students and faculty in CEHD have moved from iHave (the iPad) to iCan because of its different features, tools & apps to consume, to create, to learn & to teach.

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.

Collaborative writing

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Mitch Ogden discusses the differences between cooperative and collaborative writing. The 21st century marks the impulse to write collaboratively and the digital tools to turn that impulse into reality. Focusing on Wikis & Google documents, Ogden shares how we can use these tools to write collaboratively.

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.

Twitter Revisited

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Jude & Colin share their thoughts on the degree to which social media sites such as Twitter have been successful as a pedagogy tool, communication and information network as well as the ways Twitter can be incorporated in the classroom.

Invaluable insights gained from being a peer reviewer

elearning.jpgOnline teaching comes with its own set of challenges for faculty. Even instructors with years of experience teaching online sometimes struggle in specific areas of online instruction, like facilitating high quality online discussions, developing assignments, or assessing how well students met the course learning objectives. The University of Minnesota offers Quality Matters training in part to assist faculty in meeting these challenges.

Digital Campus spoke with Tani Bialek, an online instructor of 6 years, about the overall benefits she experienced from participating in the Quality Matters (QM) training and being a peer reviewer.

"Reflections on teaching online" (podcast)

Jude and Colin share their thoughts, different teaching styles & experiences teaching an online course as well as what works and what does not in a virtual classroom environment.


Capturing History a Tweet at a Time


It's often said that journalism is the first draft of history. Now many researchers are adding Twitter to that historical pile and want to ensure Twitter messages are also archived and preserved. The power of Twitter messages, or Tweets, has been linked recently to uprisings in Egypt and Iran.

It seems just as Twitter is becoming a force for political and social change company officials are making it more difficult for researchers to collect messages to analyze.

According to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Twitter officials sent notices to several companies that archive Tweets. The notices informed the archive services that "redistributing large numbers of Tweets violated the company's terms of service." Twitter officials apparently have a problem with a third party using its content. Twitter archive companies, such as Twapper Keeper, were forced to basically shut down most service. Last week Twitter revised its rules slightly and at least one site has restored a portion of its archiving functions.

The issue of preserving Tweets and using them in research is confusing. In 2010 the founders of Twitter reached an agreement with the Library of Congress to create a digital archive of the billions of Tweets publicly posted on the site since its founding in 2006. The Library of Congress is testing a system that will give researchers access to public Tweets.

In an email interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, the director of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program at the Library of Congress, Martha Anderson, said, "We are planning for an introductory pilot that focuses working with researchers to get a better understanding of what we can be provided both technically and policy-wise according to our terms of agreement with the donor," she said. "Our agreement requires that we notify users that they cannot use the data for commercial purposes or redistribute it, in whole or in substantial portions."

Professors, graduate students, and researchers must now wait for some clarification before they can easily collect and use large numbers of Tweets in their work.

Prof A, do I really have to be in class?

commercial_-empty-auditorium-or-lecture-hall.jpgIn an era when many elite universities such as MIT's OpenCourseWare and Harvard's Open Learning Initiative are posting materials online for free, students can easily grab material online. Such a learning environment avoids courses completely or seriously reshapes them, which might eventually produce a very effective new form of college. This provocative idea was recently posted by Randy Bass, as reported in an article in The Chronicle.

Bass pointed out that many students rate the most valuable part of their learning experience at college takes place outside the traditional classroom and beyond the formal curriculum. His observations are supported by an annual study from the National Survey of Student Engagement. Data from the study revealed that four of the eight "high-impact" learning activities identified by students who took the survey required no classroom time at all. At a time when many college administrators are taking a hard look at the status quo in college instruction, Mr. Bass hopes that instructors will stop looking at traditional courses as a goal unto themselves but focus more on linking skills conveyed in the classroom to hands-on and practical student activities. In fact, this evolution in pedagogy has already begun, as Mr. Bass argues, exemplified by a new generation of instructors using technology-infused/assisted teaching methods.

As much information can be found online, having a course without any lecture at all is not entirely absurd. According to The Chronicle, some universities have already started to challenge the traditional course model by running seven-week immersion projects with no lecture component, in which students collaborate with one another in teams on projects that benefit nonprofit organizations.

If practical activities instead of lectures become the core activity at colleges, do students even need to come to campus? What will the future hold for traditional courses? Is this the beginning of the end for the traditional course model?

Are tablet devices really worth the hype?

Or the (hundreds of) thousands of dollars spent on purchasing tablet devices for entire cohorts of students? Many administrators of colleges, school boards of public schools and even kindergartens appear to believe so.

Many schools, programs, college departments across the United States are investing heavily in tablet devices such as the iPad. The Boston University's School of Management is providing iPads to all its M.B.A students after a successful trial of the device last fall, according to an article in U.S. News. Satisfied with the results of its student iPad initiative program that began last summer, California's Monterey College of Law has even expanded its program to include faculty members who are teaching core subjects, according to an article in Campus Technology. The president and dean of Monterey, Mitchell Winick, hopes that the iPad would enhance educational effectiveness and make faculty jobs easier.

Skype Your Way to Becoming a Swan


All you need is a computer with a camera, a small amount of space, and Skype and you too can become a prima ballerina. The New York City Ballet dancer who trained Natalie Portman for "The Black Swan" is now offering online ballet classes.

The private or group Ballet Beautiful classes with Mary Helen Bowers cost about $40 dollars for a 60-minute class. A 90-minute ballet class at most studios in-person costs about $17. So why would anyone want to pay more than double the price for the class? Many students cite privacy, the ease of not commuting to class, and the opportunity for an out of shape ballet student to avoid standing next to a graceful 90-pound dancer.

Ballet teacher Mary Helen Bowers says her classes target specific muscles to help students achieve that ballet dancer body. "The muscles that ballet dancers use are specific to ballet. That's why ballet dancers have such a specific body type," Bowers told the Wall Street Journal.

Bowers says she started using the Web for her workouts in 2008 when she headed to Los Angeles to work with Natalie Portman. During the peak of her training with Portman Bowers says they were working out five hours a day, six days a week.

Bowers is developing a video that can be purchased and accessed online via computer or devices such as an iPod Touch. "If you are not at home or traveling, you are still able to log in and take the workout," Bowers told the Wall Street Journal.

The Ballet Beautiful classes are an example of how Skype and other technologies are shaping learning opportunities.

Open engagement" by "20 by 20: An OIT Pecha Kucha Event

A platform that facilitates open learning and encourages engagement and collaboration.

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

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."

Big Pad on Campus

It appears iPads may be showing up in a kindergarten classroom near you. The New York Times reports a growing number of schools across the country are embracing the iPad as a new tool to enhance classroom learning.

The Times interviewed several New York area teachers who lauded the electronic tablet for its ease of use, light weight and ability to capture student interest. The iPads cost an average of $750 apiece and, according to the New York Times, may replace textbooks, allow students to communicate with teachers, and preserve a digital record of a student's portfolio.

Educators are still divided over whether initiatives to give every student a laptop have made any difference in academic performance. The Times said some parents and scholars are raising concerns that schools are rushing the investment in iPads before there is any hard research that shows the device improves student achievement.

"There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better using these machines," Stanford University professor emeritus Larry Cuban told the New York Times. He believes the money would be better spent recruiting, training and trying to retain teachers.

The New York City public schools have ordered more than 2,000 iPads, for $1.3 million and more than 200 Chicago public schools applied for 23 district-financed iPad grants totaling $450,000. The Virginia Department of Education is overseeing a $150,000 iPad initiative that has replaced history and Advanced Placement biology textbooks at 11 schools, according to the New York Times article.

Even kindergartners are getting their hands on iPads. Pinnacle Peak School in Scottsdale, Ariz., converted an empty classroom into a lab with 36 iPads -- named the iMaginarium -- that has become the centerpiece of the school because, as the principal told the New York Times, "of all the devices out there, the iPad has the most star power with kids."

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.

Unplugging and Liking it

facebook logo2.png
At first students at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology were not too happy with a school-imposed five day social technology blackout last September.

Three months later the students report they felt less stressed, better able to concentrate and forged a stronger connection with their professors during the blackout. The university conducted a survey and focus groups. This data reported many students found lectures more interesting and devoted more time to homework during the so-called blackout period.

Harrisburg's provost, Eric Darr, decided to experiment with the social media blackout this past fall after seeing this daughter simultaneously juggling several conversations on Facebook, her iPhone and an instant-messaging service.

The student's initial reaction to the blackout was that it was prompted by a spat Darr had with his daughter. Darr dismisses that story as an "urban myth" and says the tale gained momentum after it was (ironically) posted on Facebook.

The findings are reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The university's post-blackout survey also found 44 percent of students and 76 percent of professors reported the blackout had taught them something, such as the strengths and weakness of Facebook and the value of face-to-face communications.

Mandatory e-textbooks

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There are two trends about e-textbooks. First, it is getting popular. According to a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, CourseSmart, a leading e-textbook seller reported a '400 percent increase' in sales for 2009 from the year before. Second, students still prefer traditional printed textbooks (Read another TEL blog article) because students do not want to "give up the ability to quickly flip through paper books, write notes in the margins and use a highlighter to mark important passages." Perhaps, because of those old habits, E-textbooks make up very small portion (under 3 percent) of whole textbook market although it is expected to grow up to 15 percent in 2012.

Recently, there are some new attempts to change those old habits and resistances of students in order to deal with high costs of textbooks. Making e-textbooks as required reading. According to a report of the Chronicle of Higher Education, some colleges and universities including Indiana University at Bloomington and Virginia State's business school are experimenting to have students pay mandatory course material fees (around $30 per course) for all e-textbooks and reading materials for the course, which they can read online or download. College leaders who are pushing the new programs hope that this mandatory e-textbooks can control high costs of textbooks. And they claim that this can save the textbook industry at the same time by reducing digital piracy.

However, some issues remain. The reporter of the article asks a few questions: Is it ethical to force students to buy it, even at a reduced rate? And what if students feel they are better off on their own, where they have the option of sharing or borrowing a book at no cost?

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.

The Humanities Go Digital

Humanities professors are teaming up with technology experts to push research in new directions. A recent New York Times article provided some interesting examples of how technical tools can help researchers pose new questions and find answers.

For example, the article mentioned researchers who are digitally mapping Civil War battlefields to understand the role topography played in battles. Academics are combining animation, charts and primary documents to create new ways to teach students about Thomas Jefferson's travels.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has teamed up with the National Science Foundation and institutions in Canada and Britain to create a new grant program to push research in new directions. The program is called the Digging Into Data Challenge.

While some researchers are excited about this melding of humanities and technology some are critical of the alliance. The field of humanities deals with aesthetics and emotions. Some critics wonder how these elements can be measured.

The New York Times article quotes Brett Bobley, director of the endowment's office of digital humanities. He said, analyzing unprecedented amounts of data can reveal patterns and trends and raise unexpected questions for study. He cited the human genome project is an example of how an area of study can be transformed.

"Technology hasn't just made astronomy, biology and physics more efficient. It has let scientists do research they simply couldn't do before," Bobley said.

If you cant beat them, join them.

tweeties_free_twitter_icons1.jpgThat is what some lecturers are saying about social media in the classroom. Lecturers these days face an uphill battle to get students to stay focused especially when laptops and mobile devices are considered not just communication tools but extensions of students' identity, without which students seemed entirely lost and helpless. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little here but most students these days are rarely seen without some sort of mobile devices and that can be a huge source of distraction for them as many lecturers have found. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, some lecturers favor outright obstruction such as banning laptops and mobile devices as well as attempting to shut off internet access. These lecturers belong to the school of thought that social media sites such as Twitter are just "attention-bankrupting" sites with little or no educational value. Others have gotten more creative and have joined students on the social media bandwagon in order to better engage them. Their efforts have paid off.

In a new study, reported in the article, it was discovered that using Twitter in the classroom might actually lead to greater engagement and more importantly, higher grades as long as Twitter is used for relevant educational activities. The study also discovered that Twitter was able to deepened relationships among students in the class. Through discussing course work, the students realized they shared similar values and interests and were thus able to build strong relationships across diverse groups.

Instructors such as Dr. Rankin and Professor David Parry who had used Twitter as an instructional tool in their previous courses have mostly sung praises of it. Both were pleasantly surprised at how successful Twitter had been in extending the conversation beyond the classroom and in promoting engagement. Dr. Rankin discovered that Twitter was able to increase participation in the classroom because students were able to overcome their shyness and fear of speaking in front of an audience when using Twitter. Professor David Parry has also discovered that Twitter, in providing a platform for students to continue their discussion after class period was over, was able to keep students interested and engaged for longer periods of time. They were therefore able to have richer discussions than hour-long class sessions would allow.

Want to learn how you can increase student participation and engagement through the use of social media tools? I recently wrote a blog post on the various ways instructors can and have use(d) social media in the classroom, which would probably be a great starting point if you want to explore the various ways you can use social media for educational purposes.

Individualized e-learning by data mining

Boy with laptop computer.jpg

Have you ever wondered how Google, Facebook, or Amazon recommends you something or show online ads that are very close to your interests? As many people know, these online services heavily gather and analyze user data including previous visited websites, friends network, keywords entered, and so on. With the data, they customize user experience accommodating each user's interest and need. This is how they make money.

If commercial services can do it, why not higher education? Similar efforts are emerging in higher education, especially in an e-learning field. According to a news report from Inside Higher ED, the University of Phoenix, a big for-profit higher education institution, announced at the 2010 Educause conference their ambitious "Learning Genome Project", which they hope to revolutionize online learning by individualization.

According to Angie McQuaig, director of data innovation at the University of Phoenix, the Learning Genome Project is "building a new learning management system (or LMS) that gets to know each of its 400,000 students personally (i.e., infer students' details from their behaviors in the online classroom) and adapts to accommodate the idiosyncrasies of their learning DNA."

For example, if students learn better from watching a video than reading a text, the system will feed them more videos. If a student is bad at interpreting graphs, the system will recognize that and present information accordingly.

While it sounds great, the project is just a conceptual framework for now. However, if the project comes to true, it may provide significant benefit to students and may be better than traditional offline learning in terms of accommodating individual differences. It is very difficult for instructors to meet individuals' different learning styles in an offline class of 20 to 30 students.

There are, of course, challenges. First, it would be very expensive and difficult to build the learning management system. Second, the privacy issue will be huge. One could imagine how people would worry about and want to protect their personal data. McQuaig later said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed that the University of Phoenix will let students choose how much information they submit to the system.

Despite these challenges, it seems that some other higher education institutions will follow the University of Phoenix in order to enhance their online learning and student success. In a near future, we may be able to see individualized e-learning become popular and its impact on educational achievement.

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.

Learn how to incorporate social media in the classroom

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

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

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

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

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

Outsourcing Tutors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using e-textbooks in your class?

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

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

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

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

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

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

20 by 20: Pecha kucha events at the University

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

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

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

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

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.

Cultural resistance to Web 2.0

Have you ever thought cultures can clash over online collaboration, especially when using Web 2.0 tools like Wikis?


According to an interesting report from The Chronicle of Higher Education , Singaporean students tend to show resistance or reluctance to editing things that other people have posted. In an interview, a student said that it is "dangerous" to have the ability to change work that others have done. That is because publicly correcting a peer can cause the corrected one to lose face. Of course, causing someone to lose face is not polite not only in Singapore but also in other Western countries. But its negative impact on people's emotions or self-esteem could be much stronger in Asian countries like Singapore, China, Korea, and Japan.

Therefore, Web 2.0 tools, like Wikis, run up against some Asian cultural norms about how one should treat others in public. Especially if students need to edit work done by seniors or people older than themselves, it will be much more difficult for them because respecting seniors is a of core Asian value (mostly those values come from Confucianism). As another students noted in an interview, "you have to be more aware of others and have a sensitivity to others."

Students also worry about publicly posting their classwork on the Web if instructors ask them to do because it might cause themselves to lose face . According to the report, Michael Netzley, who received his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota and is an assistant professor at Singapore Management University, has also faced hesitancy when asking students to use social-media tools for class projects.

According to Mr. Netzley, few students seemed to freely post to blogs or Twitter. His students set the privacy level high so that only close friends could see their work. Especially when the class project was not finished yet, they showed greater hesitancy to post it. Mr. Netzley said that Singaporean students seem to resist adopting education 2.0 in a deeper fashion.

So instructors who want to incorporate online collaboration into classes should take into consideration cultural differences. As Asian students expose themselves to Western culture, they can get used to Web 2.0 activities including posting their work publicly on the web and correcting or being corrected by others. But until then, those class activities may be difficult ones for Asian students.

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?

Quality Matters at the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities recently partnered to purchase a license to Quality Matters, a program that offers training for faculty to assess the quality of an online course. Quality Matters was developed from a FIPSE grant at the University of Maryland. The University of Maryland was trying to solve the problem of ensuring the quality of online courses to encourage cross-institutional sharing of courses.

The Quality Matters assessment rubric is based on recent research and best practices in instructional design. It is updated as new research becomes available. The rubric addresses course design, student learning, and assessment and feedback processes. The Quality Matters program is both a tool set and a process. Key elements of the Quality Matters program are:
a) Faculty-driven
b) Collaborative
c) Collegial
d) Continuous improvement
e) Developed from research
f) Centered on student learning

The Quality Matters rubric does not address faculty evaluation, course content, or an assessment of the course management system.

The University of Minnesota has been using Quality Matters since fall 2009. Faculty and departments are using Quality Matters to informally guide course revisions. For more information on the Quality Matters Rubric, download this pdf of the abbreviated standards.

Additional training for faculty, instructors, and instructional designers will be offered in summer 2010 and during the 2010-2011 academic year. Participation is open to all campuses at the University. Please contact Amanda Rondeau if you are interested in participating in Quality Matters or have additional questions ( or 612-624-5732).

The Office of Information Technology (OIT) is offering free workshops in May and June to help instructors learn to effectively plan and create digital audio and video presentations that further course goals.

New technologies make it easier than ever to create and share digital audio, video and narrated slide shows. However, new opportunities create new challenges: instructors must develop skills and knowledge in to media selection for effective teaching and learning; learn best practices in recording, editing and publishing media; craft thoughtful media assignments for their students, and consider how to assess student media projects.

The lucky instructors who have secured spots in the Digital Teaching Workshop will work through the planning and development of a prototype project over the weeklong (half day) series. As of today, the sessions are full - but if you're interested, you can fill out the registration form to be added to the wait list.

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.

30327112.JPGEarlier this month, the federal Department of Education released a draft of its 2010 National Educational Technology Plan--which focuses on increasing and improving online learning in K-12 settings as well as higher ed.

Kids are using technologies heavily in non-academic areas of their lives, and the report details a desire to bring those technologies into classrooms to ensure that students learn the skills they will need to work and exist in an increasingly technology-driven world. It encourages partnerships between primary and secondary schools and higher ed institutions and lays out scenarios for students to finish high school courses in order to get into college and the ways increased technology in K-12 education will affect students and institutions as they transition into college.

The report and overarching strategy is part of a push by President Obama to raise the proportion of college graduates by a third to 60 percent and close the achievement gap among disparate groups.

Free online courses: At what cost?

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

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

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

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

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

Survey Suggests Campus Technology is Underused

eCampus News

Survey Suggests Campus Technology is Underused
by Dennis Carter, Assistant Editor

Fewer than half of college students responding to a national survey said their professors are using instructional technology, and educators worry that the technology gap between faculty and students might hinder campus learning.

The study also revealed a jump in the percentage of students who use technology to prepare for college classes. Eighty-one percent said they used computers, social networking, and other tools to study, marking an 18-point increase from 2008, according to CDW-G's "21st Century Campus Report," which was released this fall.

The report includes responses from more than 1,000 faculty members, college students, and campus IT staff.

The 2008 survey established a baseline for educational technology on college campuses, and this year's report details how higher-education officials are reacting to students' shifting technology preferences.

Forty-five percent of students said technology was "fully integrated into their curriculum," a 9-percent decrease from last year. Only three out of 10 students and two of 10 faculty members surveyed said colleges and universities were "preparing students to successfully use technology when they enter the workforce."

Russel Stolins, an adjunct faculty member at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico, said fellow faculty are too often amazed during technology workshops, revealing just how little some professors know about classroom technology.

"Most of my faculty colleagues, I don't consider them necessarily front runner when it comes to using technology," said Stolins, who teaches an online writing course.

Use of instructional technology such as video and audio lecture-capturing systems and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter is often lacking in community colleges, where many professors are adjuncts who don't have time for lengthy professional development meetings and seminars.

"I think they're interested, but they could be intimated by technology," he said, adding that campuses may find faculty workshops unaffordable while most colleges struggle to maintain viable operating budgets. "I think there is the desire to learn, but I don't think schools have the time or the resources to teach it to faculty."

Students are using far more technology tools than their professors, according to the survey. Thirty-one percent of students said they use an iPod for educational purposes, compared to 12 percent of faculty. And 52 percent of students use open-source tools like Google Apps, a site where students can create study guides from different locations, among other uses. Fourteen percent of faculty said they use open-source tools for educational reasons.

Brian Friedlander, an assistant professor at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., said that each year, lecture halls are filled with students who expect more technology to be used in everyday lessons. Freshmen today, he said, are far more tech-savvy than first-year students as recently as five years ago.

"Students in our classrooms don't know a time when technology wasn't a major part of their everyday lives," said Friedlander, creator of the DVD, Assistive Technology: Powerful Solutions For Success. "They almost have to downshift now when they enter the classroom."

This year's CDW-G report reflects students' growing expectations. Seventy-six percent of student respondents said it was important for their campus to have a wireless internet network, compared to 50 percent in 2008. More than 60 percent of students said campuses must have computer labs--an 11-percent jump--and 53 percent said their college should have a course management system such as Blackboard, a 22-percent increase from 2008.

Campus IT officials recognize the prevalence of educational technology. More than seven out of 10 IT staff members surveyed said technology was "very important to incoming students." Fifty-eight percent of IT officials agreed with that statement last year.

The survey highlighted divergent views about the devices and strategies that create an effective 21st-century classroom.

While most IT staff and faculty agreed that wireless internet and LCD projectors were keys to a modern classroom, only 41 percent of faculty said interactive whiteboards were an important tool, compared to 73 percent of IT staff members. Six of 10 IT officials said video and voice lecture recordings were critical on campuses, whereas three of 10 faculty members agreed.

K-12 educators said high school teachers get a close-up preview of students' classroom technology expectations. Ignoring online video and web-based interaction with students is no longer an option as teenagers use laptops and mobile devices more in every aspect of their lives, including reviewing, studying, and doing homework, K-12 officials said.

"I believe that educators who become tech-savvy can combine their many years of educational expertise with the new ways kids engage themselves with technology for the best of both worlds," said Michael Smith, superintendent of Oakland Community Unit School District No. 5.

"Many educators don't know what they don't know. They have no idea of the shift that is occurring to the way kids learn through the use of technology."

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

5 Higher Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2010


Campus Technology

5 Higher Ed Tech Trends to Watch in 2010

* By Bridget McCrea
* 12/09/09

There aren't too many corners of higher education that technology hasn't infiltrated. From admissions to financial aid to the classroom and everything in between, nearly all aspects of college are being handled in some way by the applications, hardware, and gadgets that help institutions work more efficiently.

Don't expect much of that to change in 2010 as more technology is developed and introduced to the higher education market. To make your trend-spotting activities easier, we spoke with some higher education technology experts and came up with these five top tech trends to watch in the new year.

1. More Interactive Classrooms
The days when professors lectured to a class of blank, unresponsive faces are long gone. Today, both students and educators are tapping technology to make the classroom environment more interactive and dynamic. Purdue University's Web-based Hotseat application, which allows students to use handheld devices to interact with professors in the classroom environment, is just a taste of what's to come.

"Anything that helps make the classroom more interactive, animated and engaging--be it multimedia, streaming video or some other innovation--will be in demand this year," said Gregory Phelan, chair of the department of chemistry and associate professor at SUNY College at Cortland in New York, which is upgrading its facilities to include streaming video that professors can access via the server while teaching (rather than "carrying" the content with them into class). "We'll be there soon."

2. More Information at Your Fingertips
In an era when information just can't be produced quickly enough, electronic book readers, smart phones, search engines, and other tools will continue to create an educational environment where both students and teachers have everything they need at their fingertips. "This faster access to information is going to change the classroom dynamic," Phelan predicted. "It will impact the way in which lessons are taught, and how students do their work."

Phelan pointed to the colleges that are "handing out" tablet PCs to all freshmen as the frontrunners in the race to equip students with all of the information they need to succeed in school. Whether other universities follow that lead remains to be seen. "I'd really like to see more schools making that move," said Phelan, "and even further integrate technology into the college classroom."

3. Mashed-Up Technologies
Technological equipment and software that serves a single purpose has gone the way of the 8-track tape and will continue to fade in 2010 as more users learn to "mash up" their technologies into more useful packages. "Students are using every communication vector that they can get their hands on right now," said Ron Hutchins, associate vice provost for research technology and CTO at Georgia Institute of Technology's Office of Information Technology. "It just makes sense that they would mash those technologies together and make them more specific and customizable."

Take online maps, for example. Once thought of as standalone applications that help the user get from Point A to Point B in the fastest, most efficient manner, online maps can now be integrated into other applications, such as location-based e-mail programs. "These types of customizable, specific mashups," said Hutchins, "will become even more prevalent in higher education this year."

4. Breaking Out of Technology Isolation
One of the coolest uses of technology that Hutchins has seen lately can be found in Rutgers University's English department, which is equipped with an entire wall of touch-enabled whiteboards. Using precision positioning technology, the wall-mounted boards allow for unprecedented participation and collaboration among students.

"Students walk up to the wall and use their hands to manipulate items," remarked Hutchins. "It's like putting your whole body into a design project." Hutchins said such innovations also go a long way in getting students up out of their seats and interacting with educators, other students and technology in a meaningful way. "Technology can be isolating," he said. "I love the notion of integrating the classroom and making it more social. This is just one way to make that happen."

5. Capabilities That Go Beyond 1:1
Last year saw college students using more devices and technology applications than ever before, and universities scrambling to keep up with those tech-savvy students. Expect the trend to pick up speed in 2010, said Shannon Buerk, education design strategist at Dallas-based consultancy Cambridge Strategic Services. Netbooks, online education, social networking, smart phones and podcasting will continue to play a role in the typical student's life, as will "4:1 computing" as a replacement for the more traditional 1:1 (one device to handle one task).

"The traditional 1:1, standardized computing is too rigid in today's educational environment, where students are tapping into multiple technologies and switching gears quickly between them," said Buerk, who said she sees the university landscape as being ripe for even more technological innovations in 2010. "When it comes to [technology], there are no boundaries in the learning environment."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at

Educational Technology Workshop - Oct 13 - Nov 17

The Office of Information Technology, in partnership with the Libraries, is pleased to announce a new free opportunity for faculty, staff and graduate students: the Educational Technology Workshop (ETW). The focus of this year's ETW will be "Web 2.0" tools and pedagogies, including blogging, microblogging, syndication, podcasting, video sharing, online collaboration and social networking.

For those interested in creating effective technology rich learning environments, exciting new opportunities emerge on a nearly daily basis.
This rapidly expanding suite of tools challenges us to understand each new tool's potential for enhancing learning and determine how best to integrate a suite of such tools to create an effective learning environment. The ETW is designed to help participants meet these challenges head on. The goals for participants are:

* to develop a flexible method for exploring and evaluating the utility of new technologies to enhance teaching and learning environments; and
* to master an effective process for designing technology-rich learning activities that includes planning, engagement, and evaluation.

The ETW will meet each Tuesday morning from 9-11 a.m. over six weeks (October 13 - November 17). Each participant will work in a small team to help design and deliver one class session. Because the ETW is participant driven, an additional hour or two per week outside of class will be required to prepare for each session. Those who complete the workshop satisfactorily will receive a certificate of accomplishment.
For more details, and to register, go to

Teaching and Learning without PowerPoint?

This article profiles professors who are developing teaching methods and theories based on the argument that student learning is not necessarily enhanced by technology--if that technology is used to support traditional lecture-style methods. The provocative and seemingly anti-technology title of the article, "Teach Naked," is a bit of a misnomer: the faculty members profiled argue that podcasts and course content-related applications and games can both enhance outside-of-class learning and improve in-class discussions.

When Computers Leave Classrooms, So Does Boredom - Chronicle of Higher Education

Web 2.0 and Wisdom

In this article, Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies
at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, draws from literature from multiple disciplines to argue that research infrastructures should be used in an attempt to generate "wisdom." The article then proposes how Web 2.0 research tools build the capacity for wise advice.

Technologies that facilitate generating knowledge and possibly wisdom Educational Researcher (38)4. 260-263. DOI:10.3102/0013189X09336672

Web 2.0 and Classroom Research

The May, 2009 issue of Educational Researcher explores the topic of "Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in the Digital Age," and it features the work of three researchers with ties to CEHD's department of Curriculum and Instruction. Christine Greenhow, Beth Robelia, and Joan E. Hughes have examined how Web 2.0 has influenced the many contexts of teaching and learning. They have identified two major themes, learner participation and creativity and online identity formation, and propose that additional educational research on these topics is needed.

Greenhow, Christine, Beth Robelia, and Joan E. Hughs. (2009). Learning, teaching, and
scholarship in a digital age: Web 2.0 and classroom research: What path should
we take now?
Educational Researcher (38)4. 246-259. DOI:

Using CMS reports for data mining

Colleges Mine Data to Predict Dropouts -

John P. Campbell's data mining project at Purdue is featured in the Chronicle this week. I first heard about this project at Educause Midwest in 2007; the project is much further now. Campbell and his colleagues are able to notify students when the data indicates the student is struggling, and students are responding.

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.

Digital Natives may understand much less than we think

Eszter Hargittai, a professor and researcher at Northwestern University, discusses the assumptions many of us in higher education make about how much students understand about Web technology. She notes, for example, that few students understand what BCC (blind carbon copy) means or what RSS does.

Dr. Hargittai’s larger body of research relates to inequality and technology use. She has published on the demographic differences of users and non-users of technology and also on how people of different demographics use the same technologies in different ways.

Banning laptops in the classroom

In March 2008, the Dean Saul Levmore at the University of Chicago Law School announced internet access would be blocked in campus classrooms. According to Inside Higher Ed, Levmore wrote the following in an email to students:

"You know better than I that for many students class has come to consist of some listening but also plenty of e-mailing, shopping, news browsing, and gossip-site visiting. Many students say that the visual images on classmates' screens are diverting, and they too eventually go off track and check e-mail, sometimes to return to the class discussion and sometimes barely so. Our faculty (and I, as well as many of your classmates with whom I have spoken) believe strongly that we need to do everything we can to make Chicago's classroom experiences all they can be.�?

I certainly understand the impulse to ban internet access in the classroom; I have observed classes with students surfing all manner of sites. It is distracting to the students nearby. It limits the depth of discussions you can have in class if students are distracted. Even in a large lecture class, I assume it is also frustrating to the professor. Most of us can tell when our audience is not listening.

Work Together While Apart

Collaborating with colleagues across great distances is becoming easier and easier with technology. Faculty at the University of Minnesota are using UMConnect to deliver lectures while traveling to conferences. Teams of staff and faculty write reports together and discuss dissemination techniques for grant projects. Graduate students stay connected with advisers while conducting research abroad. As broadband speeds become ubiquitous in the US, high-speed connections allow close to real time collaboration across great distance.

There are many technologies at the University that can help students, faculty, and staff work together from afar.

The 2008 Horizon Report is released

The New Media Consortium released the 2008 Horizon report at the Educause Leadership Initiatives conference in San Antonio this week. The Horizon Project discusses emerging technologies that will strongly influence teaching and learning at colleges and universities. The emerging technologies the Horizon Report discusses for 2008 include:

  • Grassroots video
  • Collaboration webs
  • Mobile broadband
  • Data mashups
  • Collective intelligence
  • Social operating systems

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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