Online Blogucation

Inter-Institutional Collaboration Project

At the Pearson Cite conference several weeks ago I met with representatives from several colleges who were interested in piloting a Pearson CourseConnect Analytics Edition (CoCo AE) course. The Analytics Edition versions are currently intended for LearningStudio customers who are also using the Learning Outcome Manager (LOM) tool to manage and track student progress toward mastery on learning outcomes.

CoCo AE courses come with student learning outcomes pre-mapped to presentation content and assignments. This mapping also includes assessment rubrics which have both content and assignment type criteria. Pearson’s course authors wrote performance level descriptors for the assignment type rubrics which can be modified if desired. The course design team decided it would be best to allow individual instructors the ability to define their own performance level descriptors for content type criterion (see rubric example below from the American Government course).

Sample CoCo Analytics Edition American Government Outcome Rubric

Part one of the collaboration will be to get teaching faculty together from participating institutions to work on group authorship of the content type rubrics. We’ll create criteria banks by outcome that all faculty can choose from or adapt for their own instances of a course. Colleges will then run the selected CoCo AE course in their Winter/Spring 2013 terms. For the second collaboration component we intend to work on a data sharing project that will allow peer institutions to see anonymized data on aggregated student performance against commonly taught outcomes. Our hope is to present this project at Pearson Cite 2013 in Chicago.

Another possibility for this type of collaboration is the ability to provide institutions with a new option for the inter-institutional comparability requirements that often accompany professional program accreditor reaffirmations. Historically, the most common compliance method is a standardized assessment measure along with student surveys like CCSSEE or NSSE.

Imagine a future where you could define peer groups and then compare your students’ performance towards mastery on commonly defined learning outcomes against those of your peer institutions along with the very best even if they weren’t in your peer group. My hope is that part of that future involves more inter-institutional collaboration among faculty and content providers like Pearson to create stronger, more effective curriculum that can proves its effectiveness.

While comparison on its own is interesting, an extension would be to consider external benchmarking where an institution could identify peer(s) whose students tend to outperform those of the home institution. Jeffrey Alstete from the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development explains that the benchmarking strategy can be used to improve teaching and learning by studying processes and practices at institutions that excel and then adapting their methods to the context of the home institution (1995).

A key value of benchmarking is that all institutions involved in the study expect something in exchange for participating in the project; even those institutions who are recognized as best in class. (Management Consulting Partners, 2008). This is not a passive endeavor for any participant so, if you’re interested in benchmarking, it’s important to obtain support from senior leadership and to recognize that this effort will require a significant time investment.

Benchmarking is yet another strategy available to add to the assessment toolkit for higher education. We’re excited to engage with our partners to provide direct data on student mastery of learning outcomes and welcome your feedback on additional ways that we can support continuous improvement efforts on your campus.

Works Cited

Alstete, J. W. (1995). Benchmarking in Higher Education: Adapting Best Practices To Improve Quality. ERIC Digest. Retrieved May 7, 2012 from

Management Consulting Partners. (2008). Applying Benchmarking to Higher Education. 1 (2). Retrieved May 7, 2012 from

Brian Epp | Assessment and Analytics Group Manager | Pearson eCollege


Head in The Cloud

Recently, I was working with one of Pearson’s latest and greatest new products, OpenClass. Here are a couple of talking points about OpenClass for consideration:

  • In The Cloud — Our cloud-based architecture gives us the unique ability to evolve rapidly and incrementally – without the need for large-scale upgrades or major upheavals in user experience. New releases are instant, with no need to schedule downtime or interrupt your service. But we also recognize that control and customization are important, so we'll always announce when new features are available and provide you with the option to test-drive them before ultimately rolling them out to your institution.
  • On The Go — OpenClass is already extending the experience of learning to mobile phones and tablets, and mobile functionality is improving every day. Dedicated apps for Apple iOS and Google Android are in development and we'll be opening up our mobile API's for institutions to advance and customize as they choose.

Okay, so that’s the commercial for OpenClass. Let’s talk about these two concepts — the cloud and mobile technology — as they relate to building courses in OpenClass and indeed how it will relate to many mobile-based solutions going forward.

Flash back briefly to a blog post I wrote in September 2011, “Why the iPad Didn’t Work for Me.” One of the features (or lack thereof) that I didn’t like was that in trying to build content in my courses, I couldn’t browse to files, such as images, and upload them to my course. That is, I had no equivalent of the “Finder” on my Mac or “Libraries” on my Windows 7 computer. So, when I wanted to insert an image, I had no way to actually grab it and put it in my content page.

Now, flash forward to today and the rapid expansion of the use of tablets. Recently, eMarketer wrote an article estimating of tablet usage through 2014. Here’s a chart of their results:

Chart of Growth in Tablet Usage Through 2014

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that our nation’s population will grow to 321 million by 2014. That means that approximately 28% of all men, women, and children in the U.S. will be using a tablet within two years. Staggering!

Why should we care? Apple revolutionized the use of the tablet when it did not include a file manager system in the iPad. Google’s Android OS is similar. If you want to access a file, you need to have it already on the Web somewhere — in other words, in The Cloud. There are literally thousands (maybe millions?) of apps that already do this. I can take a photo on my Droid and upload it to Flickr. I can shoot a video on my iPad, edit it with iMovie, and upload it to YouTube. I can apply really neat effects to a photo with Instagram and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a bunch of other sites.

All of these services are in the cloud. In fact, if I wanted to have one of these files locally, I would first have to download it from the cloud. Very little of my mobile computing experience is actually transferred to my computer anymore, and I expect your experience is similar.

It is therefore appropriate that my learning management system would also be cloud-based, which brings me back to OpenClass. Recently I was writing a Share post in OpenClass. The Share tool is kind of a combination blog and twitter feed with lots of other bells and whistles that make it easy for students and instructors to share ideas with their class, across classes or other groups, or even across the entire institution. I noticed in the Visual Editor in Share I have the option to enter URLs for photos and videos. What’s the point of that?, I wondered. Why wouldn’t I just browse to the image on my hard drive?

Then it hit me: mobile…cloud… Ah, yes! I can create my Share post on my iPad, and I can use Share’s Visual Editor to paste in links to YouTube videos, images on Flickr, and so on. So, if I keep my content in the cloud, I can access it on my mobile device or my computer (or even on someone else’s computer), without any trouble. It’s in the cloud; it’s always there.

So, the more I move my learning materials to the cloud, the easier it will be for me to access them from mobile devices and share them with my students — more and more of whom will be accessing courses on their mobile devices. It’s an inevitable shift. How might you make the cloud work for you?

Rob Kadel, Ph.D.
Pearson Academic Training & Consulting


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'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.), 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.)


Now, children, let’s all play nicely, shall we?

Like an itch that just needs to be scratched, we can't seem to go more than about 3 days without reading something new in the debate between the iPad and the Kindle. (Not to mention the Barnes & Noble nook, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the recently announced Blackberry PlayBook.) Steven Levy recently wrote in Wired magazine about Jeff Bezos' (CEO of Amazon) recent volley in the which-is-better-the-iPad-or-the-Kindle? war: "The number one app for the iPad when I checked a couple of days ago," said Bezos, "was called Angry Birds -- a game where you throw birds at pigs and they blow up. The number one thing on the Kindle is Stieg Larsson" (à la The Girl with the Pearl Earring). Bezos continues, "It's a different audience. We're designing for people who want to read."

Digging up the most recent stats, as of today, the top download for the Kindle is Compromising Positions by Jenna Bayley-Burke, followed by Jonathan Franzen's Freedom: A Novel. Bezos, you might have noticed, was comparing apples with oranges; the top selling books from Apples iBookstore (again, as of today) are Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars and Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. (Franzen's Freedom is #6, and Compromising Positions is not yet available). I don't mean to dig on Bezos' statement (yes, actually, I do), but people who want to read are clearly doing so on the iPad as much as the Kindle.

There are pros and cons to both devices. Kindle's biggest pro is perhaps its new low price (starting at $139, whereas an entry level iPad is $499). But in point of fact, these are two very different devices with very different functions. The iPad is, more-or-less, an all-in-one: read, write, communicate, shoot pigs with birds, etc. The Kindle, while it has a number of games available for download, is first and foremost a reading device.

My question is, why do we even care to compare them? I'm thinking specifically of delivering content in educational settings -- texts which previously had to be printed. When we compare these two devices on the merits of their reading capabilities, they are quite similar. Read some text, look at graphics, attach notes, etc. (Yes, there are some newer apps for iPad, such as Inkling, which are turning texts in to whole interactive learning systems. But let's stick with Apple's iBooks in this discussion.)

By my way of thinking, comparing the reader capabilities of the Kindle and the iPad is a moot discussion. We should instead focus our attention on how we can bring educational content to any reading device that a student or instructor chooses to use. This is known in Ed Tech circles as being "platform agnostic." It shouldn't matter whether a student uses an Android-driven Galaxy Tab, an iOS-driven iPad, or Kindle's own proprietary format. These CEOs and their engineers need to get together and discuss how best to deliver content across platforms.

The goal here should be the education and learning experience of the student. I'm not saying these companies don't have the right to maintain control over their products and to turn a profit. But, for the sake of students, couldn't they just play nicely?

A colleague recently reminded me that there is a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPad that allows users of those devices to sync their Amazon-purchased Kindle books to their Apple devices. That's nice. But it's still all within the Kindle framework. Let's say I want to share a passage I bookmarked with a friend; my friend has to have the same text in her Kindle or Kindle app, too. Kindle's bookmarks don't translate into Apple's iBooks any more than Apple's translate to Kindle. It's like both companies are willing to share the playground, but both insist on using their own bats, ball, and gloves.

eBooks are no longer in their infancy. I'd say they've reached toddler status at this point, and it's at this stage of development where children begin to learn how to share and play well with others. So, before these companies' products start "growing up" too fast, I call on them to work together for the sake of our kids who are desperate for exciting and engaging ways to learn. No more of this taking your ball and just going home. Find ways to share. Work it out. In the end, we'll all benefit.


Taking The “R” Out Of RLO

I was in Singapore last month presenting at the ICT2010 conference.  It was exciting to share best practices for online learning, teaching tips, and student engagement ideas with people from around the world.  It was also a very new and odd experience for me personally.  Not the conference and not the presentations – I do that almost weekly in my role at Pearson.  I imagine I've spoken 150 times at conferences in one form or another - from keynotes to workshops to seminars.  No, it was a portion of my duties at the conference that were strange.  I was asked to represent not just Pearson, but essentially all of publishing, in a conversation (aka debate) about Open Educational Resources (OER). 

So, I was up on the main stage with a Canadian University President, an industry guru who has created an open software option for creation Reusable Learning Objects (RLO’s), a representative from Creative Commons, another faculty member (nobody realized that I too was a university instructor), and a few others.  Keep in mind that Pearson acquired eCollege (and me) two years ago.  I know as much about publishing as I know about toddler learning behavior.  (With my 3 year old daughter I have some on-the-job training, but nothing from experts…)

But there I was, engaged in a conversation about open resources and reusability with people who desperately wanted me to falter.  I believe they were hoping I’d make some crazy statement about the ineffectiveness of repositories or how publishers hope all of the repositories just go away.  But not only do I not believe that, nor does Pearson for that matter, I actually didn’t have to say anything negative about RLO’s at all.  Why?  Because the experts on the subject explained to the 400 person audience that of the hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of RLO’s in the world today, less than 1% were actually reusable! 

It was a wonderful, rich discussion about how incredibly hard it is to create an engaging, effective learning object – whether it’s text based, video based, a simulation, a game, etc.  However, adding in the notion that the object you create will also be reusable seems to be nearly impossible.  Think about it.  Why did you create the learning object in the first place? It was likely to teach YOUR students a specific idea / concept within the context of YOUR classroom.  It will flow into the strategic thought you have around scaffolding for YOUR class.  It will be tied to specific outcomes / objectives YOU might have.  It will probably correlate to other learning ideas and other learning objects YOU’VE also designed. 

As an example, I have a game that I use in my online classes.  It reinforces two important, nonverbal ideas around chronemics (the study of how time communicates to others).  It is a Flash-based exercise with fill in the blank trivia of sorts – the answers are cultural and fairly easy, but students see a giant clock with time slipping away as they fill out the card.  My students love it and “get it” as a result of the exercise.  But if I were to place that learning object in a repository, it would take quite a bit of contextual explanation and even more training around how I use it, how it could be used, and finally how to implement it (technically) on a page. 

And so, at the end of the day, we are left with repositories full of good intentions, but unfortunately with little to no real value other than to possibly inspire a teacher to create a similar, but different working learning object for themselves…

So what’s the answer?  Again, from the experts around me there were some answers, but they will take some real effort that isn’t likely to happen.   For example:

Tagging – A common taxonomy or even folksonomy must be created and used by EVERYONE using a repository.  That’s no easy task.  I was once on a campus where the faculty senate had been asked to standardize the term in online classes used for presenting mostly textual / pictoral information.  The word, “Lecture” had been suggested by the administration.  (Online norming of nomenclature across a program is a best practice as students always know how to navigate.)  However, in 2 hours, the faculty could not agree on an appropriate term.  Some staunch opponents wanted “Presentation” while others wanted the term, “Reading” instead.  Another department chair brought up the inclusion of YouTube videos on the pages and pandemonium ensued. 

Design – These (r)LO’s must be designed with re-use in mind.  But again, with the description above, that’s no easy task either.  I barely have enough time to create learning objects for my own class, let alone thinking about the greater good of the world as I create them.  (I realize I’m not as noble as I’d like people to think…)

Standards – After creating and tagging a learning object in ways that others can consume them, we then need to think about standardizing the platforms they are built on.  What about using FLASH?  It’s a nice medium that has been used for years by educators.  There are more and more software options to create FLASH simulations, demonstrations, or games that are easy and cheap, if not free.  So FLASH is perfect, right?  Oh, wait…the iPad.  That’s right, Steve Jobs seems to have made it his personal mission to kill that software.  Well, what if my object is in PowerPoint?  Isn’t it “universal enough” for people then?  (Sorry Open Office users…)  Ok, well how about I create my learning object using simple HTML code.  Everyone knows that these days, right?  (Sorry 90% of instructors out there who can read Latin better than HTML.)

Quality – I recently read a blog by a professor who was pleading for the world to give up textbooks and adopt only open source content.  He was frustrated by his textbook publisher’s edition practices.  (Luckily, it wasn’t Pearson as he called them out by name…)  But I have to say, while I’m not a publisher by any stretch of the imagination, I have come to find great respect for what my new colleagues at Pearson do.  Did you know that a textbook costs over a million of dollars to produce?  Yes, I said million… Why?   Take a marketing book.  How many pictures, slogans, and commercials are represented there?  A thousand?  Two thousand?  Do you know how much it costs to get permission to use that Tide ad or the Toyota picture?  Every time the book is produced, Pearson pays intellectual property license fees.  Add that to the author of the book who gets royalties.  Don’t forget the editors, the auditors, the fact checkers, researchers, and the list goes on and on.  And of course, don’t forget the warehouses and paper, etc.  So, that one learning object (which is likely dozens if not hundreds of learning objects) costs a bunch of money to produce in a way that is educationally beneficial to our students.  Have you ever seen an Open resource that is vetted to that caliber?  What about the MyMathLab product?  It has shown improvement in math comprehension, math retention, and math process orientation in the 20, 30, and even 50 percent quartiles.  It’s based on algorhythms that require tremendous math subject matter experts talking to expert instructional designers working in collaboration with programmers

So what’s it going to take then?  Well…quite frankly it’s going to take people smarter than me (I know, I know…easy enough) to create some innovative solutions that are easy to use, easy to catalogue, and easy to consume.  People like the CETL in the United Kingdom who have created GLO Maker (, a planning & design tool that creates learning objects that are much easier to tag, share, and reuse.  Other leaders are groups like Equella, a digital repository company that incorporates learning objects, content management, and integrated content authoring.  Then there are the content repository sites like Merlot, Orange Grove, and others. 

There are answers out there, but it’s going to take some work, some strategy, and some compromise to make it happen.   Do I believe OER will ever replace monetized assets?  No, I don’t think so.  But I do believe that the two worlds can live quite harmoniously, creating a rich tapestry of content that can be pushed and pulled as required based on learning preferences, student needs, etc.   But I think that’s a blog for another time…

Jeff D Borden, M.A.
Senior Director of Teaching & Learning