Online Blogucation
29Feb/120

Actionable data for improving student learning and inter-institutional comparability – Can we have both?

An article titled Searching for the Holy Grail of learning outcomes from Inside Higher Ed (IHE) caught my attention last week. The article discusses the elusive quest for data that illustrate the value add provided by a student’s progression through a degree program at a particular institution.

Because the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) purports to provide this value added score it is fast becoming the market standard and the author of the article goes on to cite a number of reasons why this coalescence should concern us.

First, here’s some background in case you’re not familiar with the CLA. The largest market for higher ed accountability is undergraduate general education where the focus is on things like a students’ ability to think critically, to read and write effectively, or to solve problems. As I summarized back in 2009, “we now have public accountability campaigns including the Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA), the University and College Accountability Network (U-CAN), and Transparency by Design which serve the public, private not for profit, and private for profit institution types respectively” (McKay Epp, 2009b).

Because the focus of the IHE article was on public institutions, the VSA is the accountability campaign that was highlighted. As background for those not familiar with the VSA, it

allows participating schools to choose among three assessment instruments that are administered to students with the goal being to indicate student proficiency in the areas of reading, writing, and critical thinking. One of these tests, The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), actually tests a sampling of entering freshmen and graduating seniors and correlates student scores to incoming student SAT or ACT scores in an attempt to show the value add provided by an institution over the course of a degree program. (McKay Epp, 2009a).

One of the most interesting critiques of the CLA in the article is the high correlation between it and the SAT. Olds states that “the amount of variance in student learning outcomes after controlling for SAT scores is incredibly small” (2012). The author goes on to say that “Most institutions’ value-added will simply be in the expected range and indistinguishable from each other. Hence, why bother with the CLA” (Olds, 2009).

While the author lists several alternatives to the CLA (which are worth reading), what I found most interesting was the discussion about the struggle that institutions have to find data that create actionable insights for improving student learning. For nearly four years I’ve been working with institutions to help them implement Pearson’s Learning Outcome Manager (LOM) which is a technology enhanced outcome management system.

LOM does an excellent job of providing actionable data to faculty and administrators on student performance against established learning outcomes for online and blended courses and programs. Because outcomes are associated to graded course assignments, it helps ensure that evaluators are seeing students’ best effort and when done well it minimizes additional workload for faculty. The challenge is that LOM generated data is so targeted to individual professors or to a particular course that its results can’t easily be used for inter-institutional comparability.

While I believe a majority of educators would agree that the most important reason to work in assessment is the desire to improve student learning, I also recognize that the demand for data on inter-institutional comparability will not go away. This article provides some interesting alternatives to standardized assessments such as the CLA which I think could work in tandem with data generated from systems like Pearson’s LOM to provide a win-win for the assessment community.

Works CitedMcKay Epp, B. (2009a). Implementing a Technology Enhanced Outcome Management Strategy on Campus that Produces Substantive Improvements in Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Learning. EDULEARN09, Barcelona. Retrieved from http://library.iated.org/ view/MCKAYEPP2009IMP

McKay Epp, B. (2009b). Improving Student Learning: Thoughts and Reflections. Educator's Voice, 10 (3). Retrieved from http://www.pearsonecollege.com/Newsletter/EducatorsVoice/EducatorsVoice-Vol10Iss3.learn

Olds, K. (2012). Searching for the Holy Grail of learning outcomes. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/globalhighered/searching-holy-grail-learning-outcomes

Brian Epp | Supervisor, Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege

23Feb/120

Creativity – why should a business care?

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I’ve had creativity on my mind the past few weeks. Maybe because I’m currently offering my students an assignment to create a class content-related sign, inspired by a 2009 article in National Geographic that included the sign shown here. (Who knew that dung beetles have the right of way?) This is a fun assignment that brings out some creative and funny work from my students. Anyway, regardless of the cause, I’ve been thinking about the importance of creativity in education, and I recently watched an interesting version of Ken Robinson’s talk on Changing Educational Paradigms (embedded above; you can also check out his famous TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity?).

As Ken Robinson discusses, there are many reasons to include creativity in education. But what I want to explore here are some of the “business” reasons that creativity is important. Specifically, I want to point out two interesting studies completed by IBM and the American Management Association (conducted in conjunction with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, or P21) that demonstrate the value that the executive workforce puts on creativity.

The IBM study included more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, and found that 60% of CEOs cited creativity as the most important leadership quality over the next five years (IBM, 2010: 24). They feel that “creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers” (p. 10).

In another example, a survey of managers and business executives conducted by the American Management Association found that 75.7% of respondents felt that critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (the four Cs) “will become more important to their organizations in the next three to five years, particularly as the economy improves and organizations look to grow” (AMA 2010: 4). Those responding felt that the four Cs will be particularly important in keeping up with global competition and the pace of change.

When looking specifically at creativity and innovation, 61.3% said that this was among the most important skills in helping grow their organization, and 31.8% said it was an important skill (p. 5). In terms of their employees, 46.9% felt their employees had average skills and competencies in the area of creativity and innovation, 14.2% were below average, and 31.6% were above average (p. 5).

These studies should provide food for thought on how creativity benefits business, and that students who are encouraged with creative approaches in education may have an advantage in the future job market. So get creative with the ways that you can include creativity in your own teaching or course design!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

American Management Association and Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2010). AMA 2010 Critical Skills Survey. Accessed online at http://p21.org/storage/documents/Critical%20Skills%20Survey%20Executive%20Summary.pdf

IBM (2010). Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. Accessed online at http://public.dhe.ibm.com/common/ssi/ecm/en/gbe03297usen/GBE03297USEN.PDF

14Feb/122

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Conference attendees sleeping

These people still clapped at the end of the session...

How low is your conference bar set these days?  What does it take to make your experience "worth it" anymore?  Is it 1 good keynote and 1 good session?  Is that enough?  Maybe it's a solid pre-conference workshop and two good sessions.  Or is it even less?

I go to 30-40 conferences (led by educators) each year.  Typically I present a keynote address, a few workshops, or possibly a pre-conference session, but I certainly have plenty of time to see and hear a lot of other presenters.  This also means that I end up eating lunch or an occasional dinner with dozens, if not hundreds of strangers.  So, I've been doing some research around the gambling that takes place at conferences. No, not dice in the back of the kitchen or inviting strangers back to a hotel room...(Those are the tech conferences.)  I'm talking about the conference session roulette that everyone takes part in.  Come on lucky session #4...daddy needs a new educational game!

Some conference attendees "double down" on their bets.  Good move.  I watch as more and more often, session participants sit in the back of the room.  They give the presenter(s) about 3 minutes to "hook" them.  If there is no "hook" then out the door and off to another session they go!  Two for one sessions - nice!  And, most conference presenters are making it hard too.  It seems that the "catchy title" is the order of the day, regardless of whether or not the session will actually provide value.  Sprinkle in Web 2.0, or YouTube, or Serious Game and you've got a session title that will make people do a double take!  Come on Serious Games for YouTube and Facebook via Web 2.0 in the Classroom...Daddy needs a new assessment idea!

In my extremely unscientific research, here is what I looked for.  Great sessions (regardless of the identified mode), meaning keynote addresses, workshops, pre-conference, poster, and panel sessions were all game.  I looked for a few simple indicators to determine a successful presentation.

  1. Great content - this is usually determined by the "buzz" after the session and often corresponds with the number of questioners who stick around to talk.  (My personal research seems to indicate that 3 people will stick around regardless of how good or bad a session is.)  This also includes "buzzing" conversations that follow the session to lunch.
  2. Great presenters - these are definitely harder to find, but my indicator here was pretty simple.  Who, or better, how many (in the audience) was paying attention to the presentation?
  3. Great interaction - this one is tough for me.  A lot of conferences are demanding audience "participation" these days.  My problem?  Often the audience members are not subject matter experts, they are simply professors who enjoy sharing their opinions (which is why we're professors, right?) or worse, they simply want to play devil's advocate throughout the session.  So, in both of those situations, other audience members come away feeling like the session was useless.  However, when interaction with multiple audience members takes place regularly (not simply because an audience member forced a question in), it should be noted.

So, after months of tallying on my iPad or iPhone -I love you Evernote - I have some informal numbers.  This is from 22 conferences, 103 sessions, and includes a lot of conference goers...I have no idea how many.  I should also mention that if I didn't go to the presentation, but simply heard about the presentation after the fact, it was not included here.  (I wonder sometimes if those conversations are legitimate...it's like the guy in high school who was always trying to convince you the swimsuit models showed up to every party JUST after you left...)  Anyway, here you go:

  • 92/103 sessions had poor content, which means 11 sessions had great content.
  • 99/103 sessions had poor presenters, which means 4 sessions had great presenters.
  • 99/103 sessions had no audience interaction, which means 4 session had great interaction.
  • 2 sessions had both a great presenter AND great content (although no interaction).

For those of you scoring at home, that does not even begin to approach an 'F'. Even in aggregate, less than 16% of the presentations I attended were...well, quite frankly they were pretty bad.

Conference attendees paying attention to everything but the speaker

At least I got all of my email answered during this session

Let me give you one fresh example from a conference I attended in December.  There were 75-100 people in the lecture style, tiered room.  I was in the very back, at the top, looking down on the presenters and audience members (I was preparing for my session in that same room, which was next.)  Let me describe for you the middle row of about 25 people.

  • 3 were visibly asleep
  • 4 were checking email on their laptops
  • 6 were checking sports sites - mostly fantasy football on their laptops
  • 10 were using their phones (texting for help perhaps?)
  • 1 was writing on a notepad
  • 2 were passing notes back and forth to each other

It doesn't seem to matter what the topic is, what kind of conference it is, or who the speaker / audience members are, these sessions don't seem to be very helpful.  When I attended my own discipline's Communication conference last year, with people who explain to college students how to effectively communicate a message, there was no difference. When I went to a K-12 conference with teachers who certainly need more energy and enthusiasm to reach younger people, it was no different.  When I went to International conferences, it was no different.  (In fact, it was often worse as many of those conferences are made up of "conference papers" - essentially a person sitting in front of the audience reading a research paper out loud...seriously.)

OK...so, enough of the agonizing landscape.  You get it.  In fact, many of you are probably starting to develop a twitch as I've reminded you of things you would prefer to forget.  But here is my big question.

Why is it a surprise that education is having such trouble reaching students?

Apparently, we (educators) have a difficult time communicating with each other.  How can we possibly expect to communicate effectively with our 1, 2, and sometimes 3 generations younger students?  Why don't we apply what we know to work?  Why don't we use what we know to be helpful?

Tell, Show, Do, Review, and Ask in a multi-modal, multi-nodal way and we'll reach a LOT of people.  Why don't we do that?  Use ethos, pathos, logos, and mythos (if you're dying to think about it old-school) and we'll reach a LOT of people.  Why don't we do that?  Incorporate serious games, focus shifts, multimedia, and interactive strategies and we'll reach a LOT of people.  Why don't we do that?

I truly believe that we are our own enemy here.  I KNOW that there are some really creative, innovative, strategic instructors out there who are doing great things...but when they get to a conference to share it, they get very uptight.  The idea of presenting to peers is quite intimidating for many, so those ideas never really get a chance to shine.

Then, there are the conference submission boards who miss out on great stuff.  They don't seem to read or review survey results from previous conferences, giving preference to people who get super positive comments, having thereby illustrated that they have great content, are a great presenter, or include interaction effectively.  I watched a professor at Online-Educa Berlin present a fantastic workshop on rubrics.  She was poised, dynamic, and her content was top notch.  When I told her that she should give that session at some conferences back in the USA, she explained that she tried over a dozen times and never got accepted.  Something about the presentation just wasn't "sexy" enough for the committees, even though I watched her knock it out of the park in Germany.

So let me finish with this.  Let's change the way conference presentations currently run.  Let's all take a pact.  When we're given the opportunity to share our clever, creative, innovative, effective, or useful ideas from our classes with our colleagues...let's not blow off the performance until the plane rideLet's not forget what goes into a good presentation - effective nonverbals, logical reasoning, and passionate verbals.  Let's include some of the "cool" factor when we can, to illustrate the concept.  Let's not forget the power of storyLet's agree to NEVER, EVER, under ANY circumstances READ our notes or (worse) READ our PowerPoint to the audience again!

We can do this.  It's not like we don't know how audiences respond most effectively.  We know that the lecture is one of the poorest ways we can communicate if we want our audience to retain, comprehend, and be engaged.  We KNOW what it takes.  So, let's just change it.  Yes, that simply, let's change our conference behavior.  Let us never again imply that what we say and what we do are not supposed to be joined at the hip.

Good luck and good teaching...and good conference-going!

(BTW - did anyone notice the ironic metaphor for education here?  Boring lectures, audience members not paying attention, little audience interaction, etc?  Hmmm...I guess that's another blog.)

1Feb/120

Philosophy of Teaching Twitter Challenge!

This post could have been titled “What’s Your Teaching Philosophy in 110 Characters or Less?” because we’re asking you to participate in a challenge related to developing and succinctly crafting a version of your philosophy of teaching!

The Challenge*

Please review this this post and the examples provided below about writing a brief teaching philosophy. Then, we challenge our readers here to try it for yourself! We would like to receive your submissions via our Twitter account using a hashtag and to mention our Twitter name in your post. So, how do you do it? When posting your 110 character philosophy of teaching to twitter, please include the following in your post so we can follow your responses: @atcecollege #teachphilosophy

What is a Philosophy of Teaching? Why Should I Write One?

Though many formal teaching philosophy statements run two or more pages, having even a brief framework of your philosophy can be beneficial. According to Chapnick (2009), “creating a philosophy of teaching and learning statement is ultimately both personally and professionally rewarding, and is therefore well worth the effort” (p. 4). Defining our philosophy of teaching helps to provide a framework for our practice as educators.

Do you believe timeliness and access are important, as Stevens III (2009) does in this example of his principles? “The principles I follow are simple: be accessible to students and treat them with respect. Accessibility means being available not just during class and office hours, but at any reasonable time. I encourage them to call me at home, and I promise them a response to email messages within 24 hours” (p. 11). If yes, for example, your philosophy would feature timeliness and access as important to you and in your practice you would work to achieve these principles.

What the philosophy includes might reflect a diverse set of information and depends on the audience. The Teaching Center (2007) offers these as guiding questions: (1) Why do you teach? (2) What do you teach? (3) How do you teach? and (4) How do you measure your effectiveness? Let’s apply that framework here in our challenge!

Can I See an Example?

Of Course! Following the model described above, here are some examples:

Inspiring humanity social science and education engaging and interactive
authentic experience designs @atcecollege #teachphilosophy

Learning experiencing sharing knowing doing frequent engagement
anywhere anytime @atcecollege #teachphilosophy

Lisa Marie Johnson, Ph.D.
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Pearson eCollege


*Notes

  • Do you want to follow the tweets associated with @atcecollege or the tag #teachphilosophy? You can search without a twitter account by going to the Twitter Search page: http://twitter.com/search/
  • Hashtags on Twitter allow for “tagging” a post to twitter (tweet) that makes it easier to search for on twitter.  When you include the Twitter name preceded by the at-symbol - @ - it is a Mention of the account and your post shows up in a list of tweets that refer to that account.
  • If you do not have a Twitter account, but are on Facebook, you could instead post to our ATC eCollege Facebook account in response to the comment about this post: http://twitter.com/search/
  • Hashtags on Twitter allow for “tagging” a post to twitter (tweet) that makes it easier to search for on twitter.  When you include the Twitter name preceded by the at-symbol - @ - it is a Mention of the account and your post shows up in a list of tweets that refer to that account.
  • If you do not have a Twitter account, but are on Facebook, you could instead post to our ATC eCollege Facebook account in response to the comment about this post: MindShift.

References

Chapnick, A. (2009). How to write a philosophy of teaching and learning statement (pp. 4-5). Faculty Focus Special Report - Philosophy of Teaching Statements: Examples and Tips on How to Write a Teaching Philosophy Statement. Magna Publications. Available from http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/free-reports/

Stevens III, R. S. (2009). Education as becoming: A philosophy of teaching (pp. 11). Faculty Focus Special Report - Philosophy of Teaching Statements: Examples and Tips on How to Write a Teaching Philosophy Statement. Magna Publications. Available from http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/free-reports/

The Teaching Center (2007). Writing a teaching philosophy statement. Available from the Washington University in St. Louis: http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/writing-teaching-philosophy-statement

22Dec/111

Search and Rescue

Tree octopusI recently attended the Sloan C ALN Conference and watched an engaging plenary talk given by Howard Rheingold who discussed his idea that mastering “Crap Detection 101” is a necessary skill for students (or anyone) to have. This is always a relevant topic, but it was especially timely given that Howard was discussed in an article I read around the same time- a column titled “Why Johnny Can’t Search” from Wired Magazine (Thompson, 2011).

In addition to mentioning Crap Detection 101, Thompson mentions two interesting studies, including one by Professor Pan at the College of Charleston, where Pan measured how skilled students were at internet searching by using Google to answer a series of questions. Not surprisingly, Pan found that students relied on the top hits in Google, even when Pan had artificially changed the search results so lower results showed up first. Students were not verifying the quality of the search results they found, they were relying on Google to do this for them. Another study mentioned was conducted at Northwestern, where of the 102 undergraduates studied, none checked the authors’ credentials on internet sources they used (Thompson, 2011). My personal teaching experience aligns with these findings.

So why are researchers (and teachers like myself) finding these trends? Thompson suggests that schools aren’t teaching how to conduct intelligent internet searches, and more importantly, aren’t teaching students how to critically evaluate sources once they find them. It’s possible that a K-12 curriculum focused on prepping students for exams doesn’t include time for this type of instruction on information literacy, but then university instructors assume that students already know this information and so don’t focus on it in their classes. As Thompson comments, “this situation is surpassingly ironic, because not only is intelligent search a key to everyday problem-solving, it also offers a golden opportunity to train kids in critical thinking.”

Fortunately, there are plentiful online resources that help teach these skills (assuming you know how to find them in a search, ha ha), including lesson plans and sample activities. A useful method to use for website evaluation is the CRAAP test: Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, Purpose (originally developed by Meriam Library CSU Chico). Another fun way to approach this is to use spoof websites to help students learn that simply finding something on a website doesn’t make it truthful or reliable; a list of sites, including the online pregnancy test and save the tree octopus, can be found here. And finally, another valuable website (not just for students!) is Snopes.com which helps you identify the truth behind urban legends and misinformation (such as those email chains that go around- no, if you forward this to 50 people in the next five minutes, you will not receive a free computer). So let’s get started teaching students how to search!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –

Director of Academic Training & Consulting

Thompson, C. November 2011. Why Johnny Can’t Search. Wired Magazine. Available online at: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/11/st_thompson_searchresults/

7Dec/111

Up In Lights

I just got back from performing a keynote address in Berlin at Online Educa.  It was an amazing experience.  Not only was the conference packed with over 2000 people, but the city of Berlin was quite breathtaking this time of year.  Everywhere you look in Berlin there is some kind of Christmas decoration, tradition, or ornamentation.  People gather together at the Christmas markets to drink Gluehwein (a spiced, boiled wine drink that smelled delicious) and sales abound in the shopping areas.

So as I was walking through one of the markets with some friends, I thought back to the decorating of my own tree just a few weeks ago, which led to thoughts of…instructional design!  (Seriously, I need a break).  With a four year old, Christmas came early this year and we had our tree up on Thanksgiving day!

But the lights on the tree, specifically, were quite an ordeal.  Actually they still are.  See, last year we bought a new tree.  We took our daughter down to “St Nick’s” Christmas store (no joke) and asked for a guided tour of the new trees.  While the trees look amazingly real, they ALL – 100% - had a major flaw.  It was impossible to buy a tree without pre-decorated lights!  And not just pre-decorated, but all white lights.  Ugh.

Of course, I get why they do it.  Most people hate lighting the tree.  It’s time consuming, you end up missing spots, and the only thing worse than getting them on is taking them off.  But, I knew then what proved to be true this year.  Pre-lit trees are not what they appear to be.  See, this year, I had happen EXACTLY what I asked the sales-elf about last year:

ME: “What happens if a light goes out?”
ELF: “That hardly ever happens!”
ME: “Okay, but what if it does?”
ELF: “Well, the lights aren’t connected like they used to be.  If one goes out, it doesn’t affect the others, it just goes out.  You can replace it or leave it, but the rest of the lights will shine.”
ME: “Riiiiiiiight….”

You can probably see where I’m going with this.  This year, just as I suspected, we got the tree up, plugged it in, and yep, you guessed it – the entire middle of the tree was black.  So, I got to spend about an hour, finding, unplugging, and re-plugging new lights into the old sockets, hoping each one would light the strand back up.  (I never got more than 4 in a row to light up with any new bulb…)

Alright, enough about my holiday nightmare.  So what does this have to do with Instructional Design?  Well, as I stood there checking bulb after bulb, I realized that some schools are taking this approach to their online courses.  The premise is simple:  Most instructors don’t have any education around teaching.  Instructional designers know how to design quality courses.  So, create a course with a group of designers and let a dozen different faculty teach it.  Done and done!

But, of course the analogy then starts to take over.  What if you allow instructors to change the course?  Some of those new courses will be awesome – amazing even!  Others, will be like a darkened bulb bringing down the outcomes average for the department.  What if it’s a blinking strand kind of course?  In other words, what if it has all kinds of whiz bang media and social interaction?  The answer there is that most faculty would need a boat load of instruction just to teach it.  (This is why most standardized courses don’t have cool stuff…they just have text, pictures, and some videos.  It’s easier to deliver, even though it’s not nearly as engaging for students.)  This straight forward approach to design for mass clusters of courses would be the equivalent of an all-white tree.  Guess what?  I don’t WANT an all-white tree.  That’s why last year I spent about 3 hours going through and changing out 4 out of 5 bulbs to a color.  I want color.  I LIKE color.

Ok you say - so let’s not use instructional designers.  Let’s let faculty design all of their own courses!  Guess what you get then?  You’ll get some lights perched perfectly on the limbs.  They will be unobtrusive, casting a healthy glow from the inside of the tree, almost as if the tree itself is on fire.  But you’ll also get…well, you’ll get the Griswald tree too.  You’ll get lights that look as if they were flung on the tree by a four year old with a slingshot, appearing as if they may fall off at any minute.  You will get some bulbs that are significantly dimmer than others.  You’ll get 5 reds in a row.  You’ll get classes that have nothing but text and no interaction with the professor except for an occasional rant and the final, posted grades at the end of term.

See, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  There HAS to be a better way.  There has to be a healthy mix of instructional design, subject matter expertise, and personal touches that allow a class to be unique, engaging, and a quality experience in terms of assessment.  The school that figures out how to truly mix sound pedagogy with effective delivery and authentic assessment in a media rich, social environment will rule the world.

But until then, we’ll have to take it one light at a time.  We’ll have to create the best possible bulb section for our trees or try to create at least tri-color trees that are uniformed.  But one day…it will be different.

Oh, by the way, when I landed in Germany my daughter got on the phone.  She just HAD to tell me something.

ME: “Hey Peanut!”
ADDIE: “Hi Daddy.”
ME: “What’s going on sweet heart?”
ADDIE: “The middle of the tree is dark again Dad…”
ME: Guttural moaning...

Happy holidays and may your light shine brightly on whatever educational environment in which you teach.  Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
Sr Director of Teaching & Learning

9Nov/110

Whaddya mean, it’s free!?

In case you missed it, Pearson made an announcement a few weeks ago followed by some serious marketing during EDUCAUSE about one of our newest products, OpenClass. OpenClass is “breaking down barriers and transforming the learning environment,” says Adrian Sannier, Pearson’s Senior V.P. of Learning Technologies. Why? Because, in short, it’s free. As in really free – it’s hosted in the cloud, so there are no hosting costs. There are no licensing costs. In fact, if you’re a school with Google Apps for Education you can start using it right now. Free. Just click here.

But my post today is not to talk about OpenClass directly. I’m not going to try to sell you on it or demonstrate it or talk about all of its amazing features. Instead, I want to talk about some of the reactions we’ve seen to OpenClass. It’s my contention here that we in the educational world (and in our consumer culture in general) have become so suspicious of the word “free” that we can’t possibly believe that something really could be free. Once bitten, twice shy, right?

The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed both wrote articles on OpenClass following Pearson’s press release. Fine articles – balanced points of view, a few questions that need to be answered, and so on. And kudos to them for taking on these national discussions on the idea of a free LMS.

The heart of the matter, though, comes down to the comments posted by many of those publications’ readers. I’m going to share a few of those comments here, not to poke fun at the authors or to say that they’re wrong or that there’s anything wrong with what they posted. I’m all for free speech and for potential end users to challenge Pearson to deliver on its promises. What I want to point out is the amount of cynicism we see in the world of Learning Management System adoption. Let’s start with a sample of comments (unedited):

  • free-hosting sounds great, ...but at what price? what sorts of idiosyncrasies and limitations will this cloud-based LMS have?
  • I can almost picture the pop-up ads in OpenClass--"wouldn't you love to be able to [insert Learning Studio feature not present in OpenClass] ?"
  • Nothing is free!
  • this may not be as “free” as it looks. For a campus to integrate an LMS into their academic mission, it takes time, money and cooperative relationships with faculty.
  • I question how free OpenClass really will be. Pearson is a for-profit publisher and, to use OpenClass, I suspect they will have customers to use their textbooks under the guise of an integrated learning platform…I sense there are many strings attached to this so-called free platform
  • Like other people, I’m also wondering how “free” this can really be. LMS adoption is a costly process -- in terms of time and money. Plus, a newer LMS is bound to have more problems than better-established LMS that have been evolving over a decade or more.
  • While it is nice that "free" (as in gratis) is referenced, it is certainly not Free (as in libre). Of course, one does have to wonder how long the "free" part will last...
  • Can we please define "free?" It seems very limited to think of costs only directly related to hosting the application(s) and maintaining the hardware. Is it free in the sense that open source software is free (e.g. free as in speech vs. free as in beer)?
  • Pearson could cancel OpenClass at any time, or not fix bugs or insert ads or just stop adding any features or upgrades, and there is nothing anyone can do about it - you're locked in.
  • Yeah..it's good.But would you mind if i ask you a question? well I am 31 years of age from Tanzania East Africa I am looking for a sponsor for  my master's degree any where can you help please..

Okay, maybe that last one’s not really on point. But I think you get the picture I’m painting here: people are surprised, suspicious, and even (at times) hostile toward the idea of a free LMS. Several readers/commenters act as if Pearson is a drug dealer, using OpenClass to give people a taste, getting them hooked, and then causing them to take out second mortgages on their universities just to stay in the LMS.

Not true! Look, I’m biased here. I see that. I work for the company that makes OpenClass. But I’m also an academic, have years of teaching experience at the university level, and have years of experience with a variety of LMSs. So I know where these readers are coming from. Nothing is ever as free as it seems, right? There are always hidden costs. We, as a consumer culture, have become desensitized to the word “free” because, as one commenter so astutely wrote above, “Nothing is free!”

For example, there are a lot of other LMS offerings out there that purport to be free, but limit you in terms of the number of courses you can create or the number of students you can enroll. OpenClass is not that. There are other LMSs that provide the backend code for free so that you can essentially create your own LMS using their code. Except that you have to pay for hosting – even if that means just a lousy few thousand dollars on some servers and routers. OpenClass is not that.

In short, these other “free” offerings have brought out the cynic in many of us, that anything that says it’s free can’t possibly really be free. We’ve been burned too many times before.

OpenClass is free. You can get it for free out of the Google Apps Marketplace, create a course, enroll students, and run with it. You can create ten thousand courses with 100 students in each. Let your imagination run wild. It’s free. If you still don’t believe me, try it out. Let me know what you think.

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Pedagogy & Training Group Supervisor
Academic Training & Consulting

14Oct/110

Design your own textbook? Sign me up!

It’s fall and my classes are starting again, and I’m getting the same emails I always get about the textbook… “Is it required?” (yes), “Do I need to buy it?” (yes), “Can I use an edition from seven years ago?” (no), and “Can I use my Astronomy textbook for this Anthropology class since someone at my school told me I could?” (um, really?) (and yes, that did really happen).

I frequently have mixed feelings about choosing a textbook. I primarily teach an introductory survey class, and there are several textbooks written to meet the needs of this class.  The first time I taught the course I agonized over the textbook choice- I liked chapters from one book to cover the first segment of the class, but then later chapters covering another topic were contrary to the way I teach the class. So that book went in the “no” pile. I finally picked one that gives reasonable coverage of all topics, and have been using it since then (because whenever I look to switch I have the same issue- there is no “best choice” for my class, so good enough is good enough).

I’ve been watching with excitement the development of the build your own textbook movement. I would love to be able to combine selected chapters from different textbooks. I could customize the selections to the different audiences I teach for (for example, community college versus state university), getting rid of the one size fits all approach to reading for my classes. This would also help alleviate the feeling that I need to assign ever chapter presented in a textbook, even if it’s something I wouldn’t normally cover in the class.  

This idea has been on the low end of my “to do” list, until this recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education inspired me to finally spend some time looking into it. I started with Pearson’s custom publishing page for Educators (well, of course!) and then launched the Book Build application. I don’t have a definitive result yet to share, but I’m hoping to come up with an arrangement that will work for my future semesters. So as I said earlier, sign me up!

– Gail E. Krovitz, Ph.D. –
Director of Academic Training & Consulting

5Oct/110

The On-Going Struggle For Acceptance

In the 90′s Russell wrote the first and likely most well read defense of online education.  The piece, “No Significant Difference” was well written and well received.  But it was Twigg’s follow up, “Beyond No Significant Difference” that was an eye-opener for some.  Even back in 2001, Twigg discovered what many now know to be true.  Outcomes are more easily tracked and often achieved in online classes than they are in their on-ground counter parts. 

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Oh, the online guy is going to tell us how great online is…but hold on.  I know it’s still not the accepted, common-sense paradigm that many would hope it to be.  Just this week I read an article about how Ball State faculty are highly suspicious of online education.  While I feel that many faculty are simply uneducated about it and several predispositionary thoughts are actually faulty reasoning, it doesn’t change the fact that online education is still seen, by many traditionalists, as the ugly duckling of academia. 

So I get it.  Really, I do.  I hear it all the time.  I don’t agree with it and believe I can vigorously and credibly argue the points, but I get it.   So rather than my pushing my own biases about the importance and validity of online education, I wanted to share some other’s insights.

Two weeks ago, I attended our President’s Round Table.  It was in an extremely beautiful part of South Carolina – it was one of only 4 states I had never set foot in.  The conference itself was quite amazing.  Not just the food or setting (although Kiawah Island is quite impressive), but the ideas, innovations, and operational issues discussed were truly inspiring.  We had speakers from Harvard, Microsoft, and best selling authors talk about the trends in education, technology, and online learning which created wonderfully rich conversations that will shape the future of our business.

As well, the audience was not only ready to listen, but ready to share.  It was inspiring to watch Presidents, Directors of Online Learning, Provosts, and more brainstorm for, listen to, and constructively critique ideas in and around how to best serve students.  State institutions collaborated with for-profit schools who communicated with religious colleges who listened to community college leaders…it was fantastic!  Again, these leaders are ready to fight the good fight!

But what was actually most amazing to me, in the midst of all of the creativity and innovation, was a simple truth that was stated by several of these school leaders.  It started with one simple statement and then was reiterated several times throughout the week.  It started during a panel discussion where a Director of Online Learning simply said,

“We’ve found our online numbers to be well above our on-ground counterparts.  Not only have we found that the research about online courses producing and measuring better outcomes is true, but our retention and faculty survey numbers blow the face to face classes out of the water!  We’re double digit points above them…”

What?!?  Is that possible?  Someone from the crowd actually asked him to repeat the off-the-cuff remark.  But when he did, a few other Presidents expressed the same thing.  Online numbers for retention, satisfaction, and test scores were significantly higher than on-ground classes teaching the same materials. 

So, over the next two days, I asked people at our meals and during our breaks if they had similar experiences at their schools.  Many did.  Not all, but of the 30-40 leaders present, I heard at least 15 say that they had better numbers online than on-ground. 

So, while some are trying desperately to explain away the research of the past two years as poor studies with bad analysis or poorly constructed tests, there is something they cannot simply dismiss…online learning works better in some contexts, with some students, with some disciplines, with some programs, and with some content, than face to face learning.  Period.

Good luck and good teaching.

14Sep/110

Season of Change

I had to turn the heater on in my car this morning. The Colorado mornings are getting chilly: in the 40s and 50s. It’s almost like Fall had been hiding behind the Labor Day corner, just waiting to pounce. Despite the cold (and my cold), I love fall and all that comes with it. Change is definitely upon us. Football is back, the leaves are turning, and everyone’s back in school.

With the coming of school, homework is now running rampant in my house. This is the first year that all three of my kids are in school of some sort. It’s fun and it’s challenging trying to keep up with all the basics that I’ve almost forgotten and that they are learning anew. The other night I sat down with my 9 year old daughter who’s in fourth grade to try and help her with her sudoku math homework problem. Wait. What? Sudoku math homework? I can see the connection, practicing logic and problem solving, but I don’t remember doing this in fourth grade. Do you? I remember Ms. Daniel, her glasses and her reading of Where the Red Fern Grows to our class.  I remember multiplication tables, homonyms, workbooks and chase at recess. I remember Ms. Daniel weeping the day of the Challenger space shuttle tragedy and the first time I failed an assignment. But Sudoku for homework? I don’t remember that being a part of my fourth grade.

As I watched my daughter solve the puzzle, I realized that Sudoku for homework wasn’t odd for her. It’s simply part of her reality; part of the life she knows and the memories she’s making. Just like tablet computers and texting and video on demand and charter schools and doing homework on interactive websites. These things are new and fun and show how far we’ve come in the last 20 years for me, but they’re how it’s always been for her and every child after her.

As I mulled this thought over and considered the environment surrounding my daughter’s education compared to the world that surrounded my childhood education, this thought came to me: learning is always contextual. We cannot help but learn within the environment that we are inside. We start by learning the language(s) that are spoken around us, repeating the gestures and customs that we see modeled. We come to expect to see and have the inventions and conveniences that have always been around us. But the cultural context in which we learn doesn’t stand still for us. Just as the seasons, it’s ever changing. What Heraclitus said is indeed true: Change is the only constant. And as our world changes around us, so too does what we learn and how we learn; many times whether we like it or not, whether we notice it or not. (You may not like the device, but how many conversations have you had in the last year containing the new word ‘iPad’?)

However, while learning is innately contextual, education must choose to be contextual. Education, at its core, might be described as intentional learning; which means that it includes choice. The choice of what to learn and how and why and when and to what degree. We can choose to make education contextual, or not. We can choose to be relevant to the industries of today or only to those of yesterday. We can choose to be aware (and think critically about) changes in culture around us, or not. We can choose to intentionally keep education changing for good, or we can opt out.

The reality of our educational culture is that it has always been in a state of change. Accreditation regulations change, federal aid changes, industries come and go, discoveries and advancements are made in nearly all subjects. Technologies and government programs and even people come and go.

This time of year always reminds me that, as educators, we have the intentional choice ever before us to fight change, accept it begrudgingly, or to come along side it and leverage it for learning.

What is your view of change? Is it something that is feared or tolerated? Do you leverage it toward your learning goals? Is it addressed in your course, in your class, on your team or at your institution?

Luke Cable | Academic Trainer & Consultant