Online Blogucation
26Sep/120

Flipping The Mooc?

140,000 students in a single course?  C'mon...there's no way!  Or is there?  A LOT of people have taken notice of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in the past few months.  And when I say people, I mean highly positioned, well respected, very powerful people in the education sector.  People like Presidents, CEOs, Provosts, etc., of places like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and many more have at least publicly inquired about MOOCs if not actually starting programs to invest in their own.

A respected colleague of mine who talks almost exclusively to C-level educators put it simply but effectively, "...the genie is out of the bottle."

Of course, this is exciting.  Anything to further the discussion around eLearning is wonderful from my perspective.  The ridiculous, antiquated, fallacious arguments about leaving teaching and learning alone are growing tiresome.  So anything that promotes the use of technology to enhance and augment learning is a powerful thing.  But with that in mind, and as an "early-adopter" much of the time, my next statement might surprise you.

We need to blow up the MOOC.

No, not blow up as in destroy.  Blow up as in, let's get to v2 as fast as humanly possible because v1 is NOT a good poster child for online education.  Why?  Simple.  Today's MOOC takes many of the worst elements of teaching, instruction, assessment, etc., and simply presents them over the Internet.  For instance:

Lectures - A big name in both the MOOC world as well as his discipline (aka, the smartest guy in ANY room) was describing the process he used to create his MOOC.  He said, "I was shocked when I started researching ways to disseminate information to find that lecturing is actually a really bad way to present information.  I have been lecturing for over 40 years and didn't know that..."  And yet, this great scholar and innovator did exactly that in his MOOC.  He simply recorded himself lecturing, put it on YouTube, and tied it to his MOOC.  Eric Mazur talks about a fantastic study he did at Harvard where students had their brains continually monitored for a week.  EVERY single student had similar brain patterns with regard to class (lecture) time.  Their brain waves were almost completely flat.  That's right - no activity.  The only other time in the week their brains were that inactive?  When watching tv.  Even when sleeping, the human brain is more active than during a lecture.  And yet the lecture is still the predominant means of "teaching" students today.  So, if MOOCs are to "change the world" for the better...we have to figure out how to incorporate much better ways of teaching and learning through them.

Learning - What is learning, really?  Isn't it the acquisition of information and then the assimilation of that information?  If we agree that it is, at its core, those two things, then I would bet we could also agree which of the two things is harder.  Dissemination of information is easy.  It can be done through a book, a lecture, etc.  The HARD part is actually making sense of it in a contextual, meaningful, connected way.  Yet for decades (if not centuries) educators have performed the easy part, while leaving the hard part to students.  (Actually to students who are alone, at home, with only a book...)  The flipped classroom, which is a remixed way of talking about what educational psychologists have known for decades, is finally starting to shine a light on the notion that the hard conversations should take place in class, while the dissemination activities happen at home.  MOOCs, as they exist today, do not even approach this.

Assessment - We can create objective tests that are manually graded and start to identify what a student does or does not understand.  In fact, a few MOOCs in the past month have finally started to do just that.  (This is why the very first MOOCs were not taken seriously - they really had little to no meaningful assessment.)  However, even with such heavy reliance on standardized assessments in our Universities today, most professors still agree that much of the way we know if our students do "get it" is through interaction, conversation, dialogue, and transference of ideas.  This can happen in discussions (before, during, and after class), as well as through ideas presented in papers, etc.  However, the only real way to even approach this in a MOOC is through peer review and peer assessment.  And that is a tough one for a lot of people.  For example, I recently took a Udacity MOOC on statistics.  I had opportunity to join a discussion group that I found purely by happenstance, with others from the class.  It was a study group of sorts.  However, after asynchronous discussions with about 10 peers, I soon realized that I was likely the most knowledgeable person in our group when it came to statistics.  (My mother and father are giggling right now...)  In other words, nobody had anything of value to bring to the table.  Social learning is indeed a powerful thing, but without what Vygotsky would call the "More Knowledgeable Other" in the group, it starts to break down quickly.  MOOCs could rely solely on high stakes, standardized, auto-graded tests, but again, that would simply perpetuate a bad practice from face to face teaching in the online realm.

There are others here, but I think you get my point.  The MOOC as it exists today, with millions of dollars being poured into figuring out how, when, and where to use it, needs a quick overhaul.  I am hopeful that it will happen sooner rather than later as (hopefully) it hasn't become an "institution" to anyone yet.  Hopefully nobody is so tied to the notion of something that didn't really even exist until less than a year ago that they can retool, reconfigure, and rethink the MOOC.  Because a MOOC has tremendous possibility.  Delivering global education at scale with ties to real-world competencies...that could be a game changer.  So let's make sure we get it right.  Let's flip the MOOC.

Good luck and good teaching.

9Aug/120

What the Olympics can teach us about online learning…

In just a few days, the 2012 Olympic Games in London will come to a close. It makes me sad. I look forward to the winter or summer games every two years. There's something about athletes not competing for money but simply for the pride of their nations and the world that gets me right here. (You can't see me, but I'm pointing to my heart.) I also find it heartwarming to watch the closing ceremonies, when the athletes put national differences aside and all march into the stadium in one large group.

But, never fear, online learning is here! Maybe not as exciting as the Olympics, but still, it can be a lot of fun. And, really, there is a lot we can learn from the Olympics. Here are a few analogies to consider:

Something for everyone: I’ve met a few folks over the years who say they just don’t like the Olympics, or sports in general. And that’s okay; just like online learning, they’re not for everyone. But, I think an overwhelming majority can find something about the Olympic Games (summer or winter) that they like. Whether it’s the raw athleticism of the track and field events, the grace of the gymnastics, or the death-defying speeds of downhill skiing, there are plenty of “big” events. A lot of people love the odd anticipation and strategy that goes into curling. And, hey, who could forget those rousing tug-of-war matches from the 1900 to 1920 games? Or a great, competitive round of roque?

  • Online learning provides learners with opportunities to learn from a vast array of knowledge and experiences. Consider whether you, as an instructor, tie most learning to a textbook. That’s okay, but what else could you do to reach students, to make sure that there’s something for everyone? Remember that there myriad tools available online that can be easily incorporated into an online course to enhance learning experiences. Spend a few minutes checking out the resources from MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Teaching Online), to give just one example.

There is still a role for the experts: There are lots of reasons why we, the human race, enjoy the Olympics. I’ve named a few above. But probably one of the most fascinating reasons we tune in to various events is because we want to see who is the best of the best. Who is the “fastest woman in the world”? The dead-on accuracy in the archery and shooting events is captivating. The patience, strategy, and then the excitement of every soccer shot on goal brings thousands to their feet. (Maybe millions, if you include us nuts who jump up and start shouting at our televisions.)

  • There is a lot of automation in online learning. Scheduling assignments to be available only at certain times, embedding lectures or videos as teaching tools, and of course, autograding quizzes and tests. It is enough that some instructors have wanted to do their own 200-meter dash in the opposite direction of every online learning opportunity. “I don’t want some computer teaching my students for me!” they say. But worry not, my friends! If people only wanted to see how silicon chips could perform, we’d have nothing but robots in the Olympics. As I said, people want to see who is the best, and they do this largely because they want to know what is the pinnacle of the human spirit. I don’t think it’s really any different in teaching. While few of us may ever make some international equivalent of 10-meter platform diving gold medal, we still want to learn from those around us who are doing great things in our fields. We read (and contribute to!) academic journals. We attend conferences to listen to great presenters. We watch the TED Talks videos just to see what neat ideas and strategies are coming to all us educators.

Everyone still needs to do their own work: There have been a number of accusations of cheating at the Olympics over the years. If you follow the games regularly, you probably remember the 2002 hullaballoo in pairs figure skating when a French judge allegedly admitted to the chair of the International Skating Union (ISU) that she had been pressured by the head of the French skating program to show favoritism to Russian skaters Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze over Canadian pair Salé and Pelletier in the finals. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze took the gold despite a flawed final performance, while Salé and Pelletier originally took the silver. Due to the scandal, Salé and Pelletier were later awarded the gold and Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze kept their gold. And over the years, there have been many accusations of doping, the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and even hopping up on ephedrine (the main ingredient in many decongestants), which gives people an adrenaline-like boost.

  • The fact of the matter is that winning-at-any-cost has become, for many people, the goal of their entire engagement in anything. Whether in sports or in online learning, we should be focused on what we can do and what we can learn, to the best of our abilities. There is so much societal pressure to win, that many students have lost sight of the point of the exercise: to become better. There is a sad truth as well: there will always be people who will (try to) cheat. The challenge for us, as instructors, is both to find ways to identify and stop the cheating and to be creative in how we assess “success” so that traditional cheating methods (paper mills, having another student take your own exam, etc.) just don’t matter anymore. Many Olympic sports have had marred reputations over the years due to one scandal or another; but the outcome is not to just throw in the proverbial towel. Instead, they carry on, finding new ways to identify cheating and new methods in those subjectively judged sports to standardize measures of success. Again, it’ll never be perfect; but at least we can keep striving for perfection rather than simply giving up on the whole thing. In online learning, it’s the same.

These are just a few comparisons I’ve noticed. Do you have other observations or ideas along these lines? Feel free to post them in the comments section.

Oh, and one more analogy: Costas is still king. Well, that’s not really an analogy of anything. He is just king.

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

2May/120

The Future Of Education?

I've been at my job with (Pearson) eCollege for 10 years this October. I've seen trends come and go. I've watched bells and whistles become staples while staples disappear from existence. Some things change while others stay the same. But during my tenure with the company, in addition to the 17 years of teaching in higher education for which I've never stopped, I am also tired.

I'm tired of defending the same points to people who don't really care about the answers. I'm tired of trying to show people what it's like to move a mile, just to get them to move an inch. I'm tired of the assumptions based solely on "gut" feel or (worse yet) on tradition. You know the fallacy - "We've always done it this way, so we should continue..." I actually heard the head of one of the largest eLearning institutions in the world start a keynote address with this: "We all know that face to face is the best option. But when that isn't possible, here are the best ways to use eLearning."

Huh? Forget the studies that show how online is BETTER in some instances than on-ground. Forget the research which shows how online, with greater transparency and accountability is a better method for getting students through outcomes-based assessment. Forget that data, which can transform education into a personalized learning environment allowing exponentially more students to pass, succeed, and thrive, only comes when we digitize content, delivery, and assessment. And by all means forget that online education is changing the paradigm of learning from those who cannot (be accepted, matriculate, complete, etc), to those who can (pass, graduate, accel). Forget all of that. Let's just keep doing what we're doing that is and has been failing for decades...

...or not! Instead, why not focus on what we can accomplish if education embraces technology like almost every other facet of our world. What would happen if we really opened ourselves up to delivering incredible content, authentic assessments, and practical tasks to help students work, live, and thrive. Imagine.

Flying cars painting from the late 1800'sImagine a student sitting on a bus. Maybe a flying bus. (Ok, maybe not - did you know we have pictures of "future" vehicles flying dating back to the 1700's?) But this student is looking at her tablet device. She's a pre-med student going through A&P. So, she clicks on her device, powered by the sun of course, and goes into a lesson on the heart. Immediately a 3-Dimensional heart starts slowly turning above her device. This heart can be turned by her, examined by her, and even sliced open to reveal its contents. Of course, with her ear bud in, she can hear the instructor going through the sections as she views them. Or, she can watch a real heart pumping in a video based on various contexts like during exercise, when in distress, or while sleeping. When her bus arrives, she simply clicks off the tablet and heads to work.

Another group of students is studying statistics. There is a problem that asks them to discern numbers within a given culture. They are in a late night study session in their school's commons area. One of them suggests they step into a room where one wall is made entirely of an HD monitor. A student touches the monitor which switches on. He logs into an account and sends a video conference request to a friend in another country. Immediately the wall is transformed into a window for another classroom 10,000 miles away. Now two student groups on two continents start working the problem together. They share ideas, data, and learning methodologies as they also connect on a personal level. They simply use their fingers to draw facts and figures on the wall - many of which are translated into another language, all of which are dually usable by both groups. The session lasts for 45 minutes when both groups decide to take their new understandings and craft a solution. The wall becomes a wall again.

An instructor begins class. Students login to their devices (mobile, pc, etc) to hear her speaking, but only seeing blackness. Soon though, the blackness becomes gray. Her talking continues as she describes the geothermal tunnels she is walking through. She is trying to research potential problems with the Earth's crust through a research grant, but what better opportunity to illustrate her findings with the next generation of scientist? The entire class experience occurs through the camera attached to her helmet, with the students able to ask direct and poignant questions along the way.

A class of 400 is broken into groups of 15. The instructor begins the simultaneous lecture / webcast, "Welcome to History 215. You have been placed in groups and have been given a packet which includes journal articles, websites, riddles, and puzzles. Your job is to find out who Nymon Lester is and stop him from harming our school. This 55 year old has more power than you can imagine and is using it to destroy something valuable to everyone hearing my voice. You only have 48 hours. GO!" Immediately students scatter as they devise strategies, assign roles and tasks, and establish norms for their immersive group experience. The course will be over in 2 days and only one group will win.

Finally, we find a woman in her early 50's. She has gone back to school after raising a family, but she doesn't remember much. She needs help. So, as she opens her Algebra eBook during the lecture, she watches the instructor start to piece together a problem on the eBoard. Soon, he asks the students to try it on their own. When she tries to do a similar problem, she gets stuck on step 2 and the book pulls in some content from a remedial math course to show her a video, give her a simpler problem, and help her get to a place where she can succeed. By the end of the lesson, she is caught up. Her digital course remembers what she struggled with and will remind her the next time she logs on to cement the learning, but she is not nearly as far behind as she could be.

Do you see it? More importantly, are you preparing for it? Because it's coming. Every technology described here is being worked on somewhere and even a few exist today. Oh, and don't forget the administrator who can call all of it up on her computer, create a report of the institution's teaching and learning efficacy, and email that to three accountability groups for quick perusal.

So my friends, when you get tired of the fight, remember these things. If you hear the fallacious arguments from those in power, just nod and smile. They will retire. Or, when the change is finally too great, they'll simply leave. In the meantime, keep setting up the foundations of education to prepare for this reality. It's coming. And it's going to be more than amazing...it's going to be transformative.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy
Pearson LTG

12Apr/123

Live from Pearson Cite 2012!

This is Rob Kadel, your on-the-scene reporter, coming to you live from the site of Cite! This is the Pearson Cite 2012 Conference, being held at the J.W. Marriott Grande Lakes in Orland, April 10-13. Distinguished lecturers and speakers, presenters from some 65 Pearson Education Partners, 500 attendees, and 200 Pearson employees have gathered together for four days of discussions and collaborations on online learning. And we’re loving it.

On Tuesday afternoon, Cite opened with a special, fun treat – an iBand composed of several Pearson employees (yours truly included) playing a medley of songs all from our iPhone and iPad instruments. Silly, yes, but we enjoyed getting the crowd revved up for the conference.

The highlight that afternoon, of course, was an excellent keynote presentation by Dr. Mark Milliron, and author and educational technology consultant currently working with Western Governors University. Dr. Milliron discussed technology as a solution toward increase college enrollments and matriculation, especially among those living in low-income households who need education to break out of the cycle of poverty. But he also challenged us to go further in our thinking, to recognize that simply fitting new technology into an old mold of education may not be the most effective way to deliver learning. We need new ideas about the actual structure of the educational experience to take advantage of technological tools and reach the students who need education the most.

With concurrent sessions focused on everything from mobile learning to assessment and analytics, there was no shortage of discussions around the trends in online higher education. Student want information not only when they need it, but also where they need it. And institutions are getting into a groove now recognizing the potential for data not only to describe their current students, but to prescribe new directions for future cohorts. Dr. Marilee Bresciani’s keynote address on Wednesday took such discussions further to show us how outcomes-based assessment can help to identify where true creativity and critical thinking are taking place.

On Thursday morning, Dr. John Medina treated us to a keynote presentation entitled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Dr. Medina presented us with neurological research on how our brains actually process information as we learn and what the critical points are in instruction to ensure that students learn.

Dr. Medina Wows the Crowd at Pearson Cite 2012

Overall, it’s been a great conference and a great experience. I’m already looking forward to Pearson Cite 2013 in Chicago! (Look for additional information here in the coming months.) I hope to see you there!

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

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

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

16Nov/110

Google Voice for Teaching Presence & Community

Abounding research has confirmed for us the power of instructor presence, immediacy and feedback in online courses. Conceptually, “immediacy” refers to behaviors that lessen the “psychological distance between communicators” (Weiner & Mehrabian, 1968). In practice, and in particular as it applies to online learning and course delivery, the behaviors and practices that generate and sustain instructor immediacy must often occur in scenarios of total or varying degrees of physical distance and separation of course participants. The power to connect with students who we do not physically see or meet with in person can have much to do with the resources available to us to power open lines of communication.

For online instructors, a critical need is to have the capacity for communication, just as we would have in a face-to-face classroom. Instructor-to-student communication around the delivery of content, course information, grades, assessment feedback, etc as well as the need for student-to-student communication around course concepts, discussions or group work illuminates the need for a wide range of tools to facilitate communication exchanges.

How do you foster immediacy and the communication you need to have with your online students?

If you teach with the Pearson’s LearningStudio system, you might use the Announcements and Email tool for asynchronous communication with your students. You might also be using the Threaded discussion tool for targeted areas of communication such as an instructor virtual office, a weekly topical discussion or dedicated group work areas. When synchronous communication is preferred, you might also use Classlive or the Chat tool. All of these measures share the function and outcome of providing means through which communication, interaction and dialogue can occur.

In addition to in-course tools for communication such as those briefly highlighted earlier, the greater Web community offers a wide range of tools you and I can use to generate channels of communication. In this post, I’ll highlight my most recent experience with Google Voice as a communication tool in my teaching.

Google Voice isn’t a new feature from the well-recognized Google family, but it is one that is still unfamiliar to many and is being continually improved. Google Voice offers key functionality you may consider to be helpful to you in communication with your students.

What is Google Voice?

Google Voice can be used to enhance the existing capabilities of your phone, regardless of the phone or carrier you might use. Key features include:

  • One Number: Use a single number that rings you anywhere.
  • Online voicemail to your inbox like email.
  • Transcribed messages.
  • Free calls & text messages to the U.S. & Canada.

Directly from the welcome email I received upon signing up, here is a brief highlight of Google Voice and few of its features:

“Welcome to Google Voice. Google Voice gives you a single phone number that rings all of your phones, saves your voicemail online, and transcribes your voicemail to text. Other cool features include the ability to listen in on messages while they're being left, block unwanted callers, and make cheap international calls. We hope you enjoy using Google Voice.”

Your inbox, messages, features and settings can all be accessed and customized from your Google Voice Page (google.com/voice).

Here’s how I am using Google Voice with my students

So, here is a brief overview of my current setup and a few of the ways I use Google Voice to enhance the phone communication channel with my students. First, I did some research on Google Voice before signing up and discovered the ability it would provide me to essentially bridge my current phones and receive voicemails all in one place- my Google Voice Inbox. I decided to give it a try!

During the sign-up process, I was prompted whether I wanted to use Google Voice with my existing mobile phone number or a new phone number from Google. I selected to create a new phone number figuring I could later choose whether I would actually use it. As it turns out, having a Google number, which is free, opened up additional possibilities for me in leveraging Google Voice for phone communication with my students. With a Google number, I was able to now provide my students with 1 phone number where they could call me and I set parameters around what occurs when a student calls that number, such as which of my actual phones (home, mobile, etc) ring when my Google number is called. I was also able to set when my phones can & cannot ring, and the greeting that students hear when I don’t answer their call immediately. Awesome! (More on this later in this post).

Having a Google number has also meant I do not need to provide students with my personal mobile number or home number, but can set Google Voice to route my calls to those personal telephones, if I choose to. When I am not available to answer their call, students hear my personal greeting and are able to leave a voicemail message. That message then arrives in my Google Voice inbox as transcribed text that I can actually read prior to or in place of listening to the voicemail message.

In this example, one of my students called my unique Google number. I wasn’t available to answer at the time of the call, so my student was routed to my personal greeting message and left a voicemail for me. Within seconds, I received the voicemail alert in my Google Voice inbox and was able to read what the student spoke in the voicemail message. The alert in my inbox displays the number from which the voicemail was received, the date/time in which it was received and a transcribed version of the voicemail message. Pretty cool!

Transcribed Voicemail Message Image

(Click on image to enlarge) Note: “Sample Student” and “(123) 456-7899” have been layered over the original name and number.

A few days after the original setup, I spent a bit of time exploring the Settings area within the Google Voice page and noticed several handy features that could help me even further. As mentioned earlier, I was able to schedule when my phones would be able to ring with a call and when they should not. This means I don’t have to worry about hearing my phones ring when a student calls me in the middle of the night. :-)  This is particularly useful when your online students span the country and/or the globe and could be calling you from a wide range of time zones!

Within settings, I also noticed the ability to elect to have text message alerts of new Google Voice activity sent directly to my cell phone. I went ahead and signed up to receive a text message alert on my personal cell phone whenever a student leaves a voicemail message at my Google number. (Keep in mind this is something you can change or cancel at any time). For me, this handy feature has meant I am automatically alerted of a student’s voicemail message even if I am not in my Google Voice inbox or even on my computer. Below is a screen capture of what the text message alert looks like on my cell phone. Notice the transcription of the voicemail message directly within the text message alert on my screen, giving me the ability to ‘see’ the content of my student’s voicemail message without having to be on my computer, log into my Google Voice account, or even ‘listen’ to the voicemail message:

Image of Text Message Alert of a Voicemail in Google Voice

(Click on image to enlarge) Note: “Sample Student” and “(123) 456-7899” have been layered over the original name and number.

I’ve certainly noticed instances in which the transcription of a voicemail isn’t complete. When this happens, I am able to listen to the actual message to hear my student’s recording directly. I am also able to alert Google of when this occurs and even “donate” the transcript for improvement of Google Voice in the future.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, having a Google number and Voice account means I can also receive text messages from my students, free of charge. Now, I know some of us as instructors are not sold on text messaging with our students. And you’ll find the features of this tool that are helpful to you and you can use those. I’ve found adding a Contacting your Professor announcement in my online course and including within it several parameters for communication and my expectations for students can really help clarify the way I encourage my students to communicate with me, minimizing issues of appropriate methods of contact, etc.

When a student does send me a text message (which I’ve noted in my announcement as an acceptable form of communication), the text message arrives in my Google Voice inbox, just like an email would. It is organized under “Texts” and I have elected to have alerts of new text messages to my Google number sent directly to my cell phone. The alert includes details of the message as well as the text itself, much like the earlier screen capture. And I can choose to respond with a text message, a phone call, or any other method I’d like to use.

Additional thoughts on Google Voice for Communication and Community

I’ve been using Google Voice for some time now and it has become a frequently-used tool in my toolkit as I seek to build effective communication with my students. I’ve also been able to refer my students to sign up for their own Google number to be able to make free nationwide calls to classmates throughout the course and to team members during a group project. All the student messages I receive, including voicemail messages and text messages, are stored within my Google Voice inbox and I can access them from anywhere I can access the internet. I can choose to delete messages once I’ve responded to the student or keep the message stored in my inbox, which means I no longer have to worry about time limits for the storage and retrieval of student’s messages. As a robust phone communication tool to support what I am already doing in my online courses and the ways I seek to foster immediacy, Google Voice is certainly worth a try.

Here are some resources to get you started

If you’re curious about getting started with Google Voice, take a look at this brief introductory video: What is Google Voice? or visit the Google Voice YouTube channel to see more. To sign up, go to google.com/voice. Click “Try it Out” to sign up with a current Google account or to create a new Google Account. Once your Google account has been created and verified, click on Voice logoand follow the on-screen instructions to get started. Again, you’ll have the option of using Google Voice with an existing mobile phone number or creating a brand new (and free) Google number.

By the way, if on-the-go advanced calling and voicemail functionality is a welcomed addition for your communication toolkit, you can download the Mobile App, which gives you access to your Google Voice inbox and messages right there on your mobile phone. Pretty handy if you like to stay connected while mobile! With the app, I am able to call students or send them text messages that appear as though they are coming from my Google phone number even though I am actually sending them from my personal mobile phone. Pretty cool stuff! Plus, it’s totally free to do within the U.S. and Canada. Currently, the app is available for Blackberry, iPhone and Android powered phones. For more information or to download the app, search for “Google Voice” in your app marketplace.

Until next time, I wish you the best in your courses. Be sure to share a comment with us via this blog if you use Google Voice or another handy tool for communication with your students!

Rachel Cubas
Academic Trainer & Consultant
Assessment & Analytics Group | Academic Training & Consulting Team (ATC)
rachelc@ecollege.com

References:

Wiener, M. & Mehrabian, A. (1968). Language within language: Immediacy, a channel in verbal communication. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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

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