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I enjoyed this presentation by Steve Wheeler at a recent Elesig seminar. Nothing new here. But Steve always produces great slides and it provides a very neat overview pulling together developments in the pedagogy of learning using technology. There is also a recording of the seminar, attended by some 95 participants, on the Elesig portal (login required).
A quick and overdue update on the Labour Market Information for All project, which we are developing together with Raycom, the University of Warwick and Rewired State and is sponsored by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).
LMI for All will provide an online data portal bringing together existing sources of labour market information (LMI) that can inform people’s decisions about their careers. The database will contain robust LMI from national surveys and data sources providing a common and consistent baseline to use alongside less formal sources of intelligence. Due for release at the end of May 2013, access to the database will be through an open API. the results of queries can then be embedded by developers in their own web sites of apps. We will also provide a code library to assist developers.
The project builds on the commitment by the UK government to open data. despite this, it is not simple. As the Open Data White Paper (HM Government, 2012)highlights, data gathered by the public sector is not always readily accessible. Quality of the data, intermittent publication and a lack of common standards are also barriers. A commitment is given to change the culture of organisations, to bring about change: ‘This must change and one of the barriers to change is cultural’ (p. 18).
We have talked to a considerable number of data providers including government bodies. It is striking that all have been cooperative and wishing to help us in providing access to data. However, the devil is in the detail.
Much of the data publicly collected, is done so on the condition that is is non disclosive e.e. that it is impossible to find out who submitted that data. And of course the lower the level of aggregation, the easier it is to identify where the data is coming from. And the more the data is linked, the more risk there s of disclosure.
We have developed ways of getting round this using both statistical methods (e.g. estimation) and technical approaches (data aggregation). But it remains a lot of work preparing the data for uploading to our database. And I guess that level of work will discourage others from utilising the potential of open data. It may explain why, transport excluded, their remain limited applications built on the open data movement in the UK.
It may suggest that the model we are working on, of a publicly funded project providing access to data, and then providing tools to build applications on top of that data, could provide a model for providing access to public data.
In the meantime if you are interested in using our API and developing your own applications for careers guidance and support, please get in touch.
So MindTap just won a CODiE award for “Best Post-secondary Personalized Learning Solution.” In and of itself, this isn’t a big deal. No offense intended to current or prior winners, but the CODiEs often feel like awards for “Best Instant Coffee” or “Best New Technology Product by an Important Sponsor of Our Awards Program.” They’re not exactly signals of breakthrough educational product design. But I’m glad that the award was given in this case because I think MindTap does represent an important innovation that addresses some of the trends that we’ve been blogging about here at e-Literate (which was one of the reasons that I was enticed to work on MindTap at Cengage for a while).
MindTap is not a “personalized learning solution.” While it does allow students to do things like integrate their Evernote accounts and choose whether they want to read or listen to texts, the level of personalization for the learners is not terribly different from other products on the market. (And it certainly is nowhere near as radical as the vision for a Personalized Learning Environment which came from the UK’s JISC and elsewhere, and from which terms like “personalized learning solution” and “personalized learning experience” have been bastardized). Nor are there adaptive analytics or other sorts of machine-driven personalization in the product at this time. Rather, the key differentiator in the current incarnation of MindTap is the way in which it creates a more refined and complete learning experience out of the box while still enabling faculty to customize those experiences to the needs of their students in pretty significant and, in some cases, new ways. This is exactly where the textbook, LMS, and MOOC markets are all headed, and MindTap got there first.The Problem to be Solved
In order to understand the value of a product like MindTap, it’s important to understand where textbook publishers do and do not compete. You’re not going to see a lot of MindTap-style products for courses like “Advanced Topics in International Trade Policy,” “Research in Genetics,” “Greek Film,” or “Intermediate Killer Shark Genre.” These smaller courses are relatively uninteresting to textbook publishers because they don’t have the scale necessary to generate significant revenues, and they are also better suited to hand-crafted course designs that are tailored to the strengths of the particular professor doing the teaching and can be highly tailored to the needs and interests of the students in the class. Rather, the courses in question are more like “Introduction to Psychology,” “General Biology I,” “Microeconomics,” or “Survey of Western Civilization.” (English Composition is an anomaly in this categorization because of the way it is taught.) These courses are generally taught in large lecture halls with little or no writing—and when there is writing, it is often graded quickly on a narrow range of criteria by overworked graduate students—and relatively generic syllabi (particularly in non-elite institutions).
A lot of the heated debate over whether college is “broken” revolves around these sorts of classes without ever explicitly defining the scope of the problem. Those who say school is broken and need to be disrupted tend to argue as if all college courses are giant, boring lecture courses. Those who argue against the “school is broken” meme tend to characterize these large lecture-centric courses as exceptions. Neither characterization is entirely accurate. On one hand, there are huge swaths of courses in just about any college catalog that are not large lecture courses. On the other hand, because the large lecture courses are concentrated in core curriculum and core major classes, most students have to take a handful of these courses in order to graduate.
Regardless of how pervasive or rare you think these courses are, everybody seems to agree that they are not terribly effective. But what should be done about the problem? Shrinking the class size is simply not going to happen, given both budget realities and the moral imperative to increase access to education. And yet, the current situation is bad not only for the students but also for the instructors. Keep in mind that the people teaching these survey courses are disproportionately either junior faculty who are doing all kinds of other duties to earn tenure or adjuncts who are working unreasonable course loads just to make ends meet. They generally don’t have a lot of time to either carefully craft a course or give students a lot of (or any) individual attention. They often have little choice but to take what the publisher is giving them as their course outline and run with it. In and of itself, the direct adoption of a publisher’s curriculum isn’t necessarily bad for many of these courses. The whole idea of a core course is that it helps all students getting a particular degree or a particular major to master certain competencies that they should have. There is a strong argument for consistency of curriculum across core courses. But the current situation neither guarantees consistency of curriculum nor saves the instructor time for either thoughtful customization of the curriculum or any other purpose. There is still a lot of hand assembly required to pull together reading assignments, assessments, slides and lecture notes, and so on. It is generally not a creative process because there is little time for creativity, but it is nevertheless a labor-intensive process and one that is prone to introduce variation in hitting those core competencies without any checks or even necessarily a lot of reflection on it.A Better Compromise
If instructors are going to adopt a third-party course curriculum anyway, then we should at least use technology to remove the hand assembly. Why not provide the readings, multimedia, assignments and assessments, neatly integrated with a basic syllabus, into one ready-to-use digital package for the students? At its most basic, this is what “courseware” is and what MindTap does. It provides students and instructors with a ready-to-go complete course structure with all the materials and assessments placed in a logical and easily navigable order. Joel Spolsky once defined poor user interface design as forcing users to make choices that they don’t care about. That is also an apt description for 80% of the pre-semester course preparation process that instructors go through with these big survey courses. Pre-assembling the elements of the vanilla version of the course frees up the instructors’ time to focus on the customizations that they actually do care about. To begin with, the course structure is already assembled and visible, which makes it easier for the instructor to think about its total shape. Removing unwanted content or changing content order is trivially easy, making the roughing in of the course structure very quick.
But things get really interesting when you start looking at adding to the learning path structure in MindTap rather than just moving or deleting things. In ed tech discussions, we tend to talk about APIs as if the main differentiation is having them versus not having them. Can you or can you not integrate Google Docs into a course? But in reality, the specifics of the integration can make an enormous difference in how practically useful the added functionality is to teachers and students. Do you want to make a folder of your documents (like your syllabus) available to the students at all times in the course with one or two clicks, or do you want to insert your own supplemental document right into the course reading, zero clicks away for the student and on their default navigation path? These two types of integration serve fundamentally different purposes in the course. In MindTap, you can do both and more. And importantly, making these different customizations is intuitive and almost trivially easy. Radical customization of the course structure is very much possible. But both because there is far less instructor time wasted with hand assembly of course elements and because customizations are visible and visualizable in the learning path structure, the percentage of time spent on meaningful instructional activities, whether that’s course customization or student interaction, is likely to be higher. For this reason, the MindApp model and the learning path structure are MindTap’s crown jewels.Table Stakes
Of course, MindTap doesn’t have a monopoly on useful courseware platform design. For example, WileyPLUS enables instructors to see which course materials and assessments are associated with which learning objectives. This helps instructors to align what they’re teaching and assessing on to what they think the student should be learning. More importantly, none of these innovations from any of the platforms are going to magically change poor large lecture classes into great educational experiences. The key to solving that problem is not the technology by itself but the learning design that it enables. The classroom flipping craze is a craze precisely because it is a learning design that can improve the pedagogical impact of these large survey classes. But anyone who has actually tried to flip their class will tell you that it’s not easy to do well. Faculty need pedagogical models other than the ones that they learned from their own professors, including the practical tips and support necessary to make those models work in the real world. They need course designs based on learning science and collected experience of innovators, and supported by technology. The MindTap platform doesn’t provide that. No technology platform does. And as far as I can tell, Cengage is not yet designing courseware for MindTap that even attempts to do this. But in order to accomplish the bigger goal, we first need to strike a new balance regarding course design customization. It’s not a question of “more” versus “less.” There will always be times when it is wise to allow a skilled instructor to tune a course. But there needs to be more of a sophisticated collaboration between the individual instructor, a curriculum design team (whether that team works for a textbook publisher or a university), and the other instructors teaching the course at the same institution in order to arrive at better pedagogical approaches that can be adopted and adapted to best effect by individual teachers. In order to accomplish that, you need to start with a combination of platform and content that makes meaningless course assembly unnecessary and meaningful course customization both easy and visible. This is what we mean at e-Literate when we write about “courseware.” And at the moment, MindTap is the best example I know of what a next-generation courseware platform will look like.
Clayton R. Wright, May 13, 2013 Clayton R. Wright has just released the lated in his excellent lists of education and ed tech conferences, this one for June - December, 2013 (with some additional conferences from 2014, 2015 and even 2016). Please download the attachmenmt for the full list, in MS Word. He writes, "During the last five years, there seems to be greater focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning. Hence, institutions are expanding their professional/faculty development capabilities and hiring directors or vice-provosts of academic innovation and excellence. Concurrently, there has been an increasing number of organizations and conferences that promote professional growth. A few of these organizations and events (primarily North American) are listed below along with the month during which their workshops or conferences are most often held.
"In my e-mail to others I would suggest that they examine http://fakejournals.blogspot.ca/ or Jeffry Beale’ s list of questionable publishers and organizations so that they could consider whether they want to attend events sponsored by these organizations. Also, I will advise them to read How to Get the Most Out of a Conference by Stephen Downes."
Not many people are aware that over 2,900 colleges and universities accept CLEP exams towards a college credit.
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There are some major education technology trends that are disrupting the current education model. Here's the breakdown.
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Coursera, textbook publishers, and Chegg are teaming up to give students access to digital course materials for some Coursera classes. Those materials will be DRM’d, content can’t be copied, pasted, or printed, and access will go away at the end of the course. Viva la ed-tech revolution.
The union representing professors at San Jose State University (which has worked closely with both edX and Udacity) penned a letter regarding its administration’s MOOC embrace. The full letter is available on The Chronicle. Among the choice quotes: “While Anant Agarwal of edX and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom describe a stereotype of classroom teaching based on some hackneyed Hollywood script of a teacher writing on the blackboard while his students sleep in boredom…”
San Francisco State University’s Academic Senate also wrote a letter (PDF) stating their opposition to State Senator Darrel Steinberg’s SB 520 bill that would require credits be granted by online providers for “closed” classes. “First [and let me interject and editorialize here… FIRST] there is no access crisis at San Francisco State University.”
The administration at American University have issued a “moratorium on MOOCs,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. “American is purposely avoiding experimentation before it decides exactly how it wants to relate to the new breed of online courses. ‘I need a policy before we jump into something,’ said Scott A. Bass, the provost, in an interview.”
The University of Pennsylvania is working on language for policy that would restrict what faculty could do vis-a-vis online freelance teaching work (aka non-sanctioned MOOCs, I guess). More details via Inside Higher Ed.Testing Testing Testing
The ACT will move towards computer-based testing, says The New York Times. “High school students will take the ACT college admissions exam by computer starting in the spring of 2015 — but at least for a while, the paper and pencil version will be available, too.”
There are still more errors on New York City’s Gifted and Talented screening test, report GothamSchools. Last month, the city’s Department of Education admitted that test-provider Pearson had made multiple errors, resulting in 5000-ish students getting lower scores than they deserved. Today’s news adds another 300-ish students to that pile. This is Pearson’s first year administering a $5.5 million contract for the screening program. Renewal will be a) unlikely b) ridiculous c) ludicrous d) all of the above.Law and Politics
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) has proposed a bill that would set the interest rate for federally subsidized student loans to .75%, the same rate as the Federal Reserve gives to banks.
ProPublica details some of the fallout of the US government’s sequestration, including the loss of 70,000 Head Start slots, major budgets cuts at schools on Indian reservations, and thousands of fewer NSF grants.
A group of young boys at Driver Elementary School in Virginia were suspended by district officials for pointing pencils at each other and making shooting noises. The district has a “no tolerance” policy for violence and “there has to be a consequence,” said a district spokesperson.
The Louisiana State Supreme Court ruled this week that the state’s funding for its school voucher program is unconstitutional. The program was part of Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reforms.Launches and Upgrades
The University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab released a new version of Prism this week, “a web-based tool for ‘crowdsourcing interpretation” and a good reminder, I’d add, for the school’s Board of Visitors that if you get your news about UVA from David Brooks and not Bethany Nowviskie, then you have no idea what innovation looks like.
One of the very best learning tools available, Scratch, invoked the 2.0 postscript this week, moving the learn-to-code software onto the Web. Finally. There are lots of new features in the updated release, including better ways to credit other users, easier cloning, and much more. Good job, Scratch Team.
The learning management system Desire2Learn launched a new “Learning Suite” this week that includes the “power of predictive analytics.” The company acquired Austin Peay State University’s “Degree Compass” earlier this year, and it says that the course recommendation engine will be part of its new “Student Success System.” End press release speak.
USA Today reports that Xerox is getting into the grading papers business with a new product called Ignite “that turns the numerous copiers/scanners/printers it has in schools across the United States into paper-grading machines.” The article invokes the phrase “game changer” so there ya go.
More pushback against the Gates Foundation-funded data infrastructure inBloom? Speaking at a Republican Party breakfast, Georgia Georgia Schools Superintendent John Barge said that “while Georgia agreed to be part of the collaborative, it will not share the student data with InBloom. He also said while he’s heard that InBloom staff have asked individual school systems to share the student data, the state will not be part of that.”
And according to Reuters journalist Stephanie Simon, an inBloom spokesperson says that Phase II of the project is off; “there are no plans” to bring in Delaware, Georgia or Kentucky. And she cites Bob Swiggum, CIO for Georgia DOE, saying that “ furor over student privacy makes states wary of database: ‘I don’t know how inBloom will survive this.’” $100 million well spent, Mr. Gates. Good job, team.
Bloomberg reports that textbook publisher Cengage Learning might file for bankruptcy. “Cengage reported an operating loss of $2.77 billion for the three months ended March 3.” But hey, at least it’s partnered with Coursera to give MOOC students free textbooks, right?Funding and Acquisitions
Okay, this isn’t VC money. It’s your tax dollars at work. But Deadspin asked a good question this week (and answered it in the headline too): “Is Your State’s Highest-Paid Employee a Coach? (Probably)” More details on salaries and funding of athletic versus instructional staff via Inside Higher Ed.
The organization that I was fairly convinced for most of the week had to be a joke, Black Mountain SOLE, announced that it’s raised $5 million (although the press release doesn’t say where the money actually came from.) So it's real. I guess. Black Mountain SOLE is responsible for MOOC Campus, a $15,000/year initiative that lets you live in a North Carolina YMCA while you take classes online. Because freedom. And disruptive innovation. And self directed learning. And rich white kids. And stuff.
Fidelis announced that it has raised $6 million in its Series A round. The startup, at launch, focused on military personnel’s transition into formal academic institutions, but the company has pivoted to a broader technology platform, still focused on mentorship.
JoyTunes, an app-based music education startup, has raised $1.5 million in Series A funding, according to Techcrunch.
Vator News reports that Logical Choice Technologies, a company founded in 1994, has raised $5 million in funding. Logical Choice Technologies is “a technology solutions company for K12 and college that offers a wide range of products and services, from leading brands of mobile devices, projectors, and interactive whiteboards, to installation services and classroom curriculum”— as well as augmented reality Common Core curriculum. Seriously.
Prague-based CourseDirector, which provides an LMS-like layer on top of Google Apps for Education, has been acquired by LingApps, a Danish ed-tech company (and maker of the assistive tech AppWriter.
Interactive whiteboard maker Promethean World announced its first quarter results this week — “in line with expectations” reads the headline, with revenues down 22.5% from £35.9 million last quarter to £27.8 million. “Market conditions will continue to be challenging throughout 2013,” said the company. Um, yeah.“Research”
Hispanic high school students are more likely than whites to enroll in college, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center. 69% of Hispanic graduates from the class of 2012 and 67% of whites enrolled in college that fall. College graduation rates for Hispanics, however, remains lower.
Photo credits: Pete Toscano
There's a new MOOC on the block and it's getting ready to help you learn Spanish and perhaps another language in the future.
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Sir Ken Robinson, Bill Gates, Geoffrey Canada and more take on big topics in the all-new TED Talks Education. Full feature presentation is here.
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