Arizona State Announces Partnership with Pearson to Deliver Online Learning

With budgets tight and the commercial market flush with companies willing to take on various tasks that come with running a university, it has become relatively common for institutions to outsource parts of their operations to outside companies.

It is less common for a public university to entrust an outsider with such a wide swath of duties that it calls that private company an equal partner in online education. But Arizona State University announced on Monday that it is doing just that with Pearson, the education and media company.

Under the agreement, the Arizona State faculty will teach online courses through Pearson’s learning management platform, LearningStudio, using the tools embedded in that platform to collect and analyze data in hopes of improving student performance and retention. Pearson will also help with enrollment management and “prospect generation,” while providing more “customer-friendly” support services for students, the university says.

Arizona State, meanwhile, says it will retain control over all things academic, including instruction and curriculum development.

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Battle for the Lecture-capture Market Heats Up

As higher ed technology leaders convene today in Anaheim for the annual meeting of Educause, the battle for the lecture-capture market is growing more intense—and the definition of the market may be changing as well.

At Educause a year ago, there was still debate regarding how to win over faculty members skeptical of lecture capture—a service in which class lectures are recorded and preserved in a digital library, frequently with additional materials such as relevant slides, quizzes or summaries. This year, the pre-meeting buzz has been less about debating whether lecture capture will take off than over which companies and which approaches are mostly likely to succeed. Some lecture-capture companies are aligning themselves with big publishers—while others say they are content not to.

One publisher-lecture capture partnership—Macmillan and Panopto—will today announce a plan to start pushing a business model in which individual faculty members would be sold on lecture capture and pass on the costs to students in the form of a low-cost licensing fee ($10 per student per course). The professors would assign a lecture capture purchase much the same way a textbook is assigned. While some in the industry see this as a way to expand lecture capture quickly beyond institutions that will pay for institution-wide licenses, others question whether this could anger students, and in turn frustrate professors who want to use the technology.

The Macmillan/Panopto push (which is a collaboration, not a merger or purchase) comes a week after McGraw-Hill Education purchased Tegrity, a lecture-capture company. . . .

The companies involved in lecture capture did tens of millions of dollars of business with higher education in the last year, and are expecting significant growth for the next five years, as more faculty members and more institutions embrace the concept.

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Making Online Learning Accessible to the Blind

Online learning is often heralded as a way to make college an option for people who would not otherwise have the money or mobility to access it. But for blind students, online learning can present more obstacles than opportunities — especially as e-learning materials become more technologically sophisticated. . . .

That new types of course content being developed for online learning might create accessibility problems is not a new revelation. But the courts have made little progress toward defining and enforcing accessibility standards for online education in the last decade, even as online degree programs have proliferated and been adopted into mainstream higher education. Only in the last few months has the federal government hinted that online education, and technological innovations associated with it, might soon face legal scrutiny.

In the meantime, advocates for the blind are worried that it is becoming harder for the assistive technology used by blind students to keep pace with advances in educational technology. “Dynamic” e-learning content — e.g., graphics that change as a user rolls over or clicks on different parts — could present huge challenges to blind students, says Chris Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation for the Blind, or NFB. Figuring out how translate static tables and diagrams for blind students was trouble enough, he says; it is not yet clear how to deal with newer, more interactive e-learning objects that may soon pervade online education. . . .

The chances of a successful lawsuit might become clearer sometime in the next year or two. The Department of Justice has suggested that it might soon articulate exactly what kind of legal recourse blind and otherwise disabled students have with respect to the accessibility of online courses. Last month, the department issued several notices, saying it is collecting public comment on a number of topics related to accessibility and the Web in preparation to lay out the specific obligations of various institutions under federal law.

In June, the Justice Department and the Education Department jointly released a “dear colleague” letter to colleges, warning them that the government plans to crack down on institutions that require disabled students to use emerging technology that does not comply with federal accessibility laws. This, again, did not explicitly mention online education, but Bridges says it was a shot across the bow.

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Continuing Debate Over Online Education

A new paper by the Community College Research Center has re-examined and challenged the studies that theDepartment of Education used in a meta-analysis that stated “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction”—a conclusion that received much attention and applause among advocates for online education.

But the Education Department’s analysis was flawed, according to Shanna Smith Jaggars, lead author of the CCRC paper and a senior research associate at the Columbia University center. Based on its review of the data, the CCRC concluded that online learning in higher education is no more effective than face-to-face learning.

The CCRC report states that the Department of Education analysis’ flaws lie in the student populations studied and the conditions of the online courses. The meta-analysis examined the results of 51 published studies that looked at the effects of online versus face-to-face education. Of these, however, only 28 compared face-to-face courses with fully online courses. (The third option, hybrid courses, had most of the students experiencing as much face-to-face class time as they would in a normal course.)

The paper also states that most of these 28 courses studied contained conditions unrepresentative of typical college classes. Most of them looked at short educational programs (as short as 15 minutes) instead of semester-long courses, and some examined online learning in elementary schools or with postgraduate professionals. As a result, Jaggars narrowed the pool to only seven studies that accurately reflected fully-online learning in a college or university setting.

According to the report, these seven online courses “showed no strong advantage or disadvantage in terms of learning outcomes among the samples of students under study.”  . . .

But comparing online to face-to-face learning may not be the best approach to assessing online education, says John Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium, a group of colleges and other organizations that work on online education issues.

“I am exceptionally dubious of studies that tend to compare online education and on-the-ground education without even an attempt to understand the differences in the mechanisms of teaching,” he said, adding that he thinks both reports are flawed, albeit interesting. “The jury is absolutely still out on this, and I don’t believe for a minute that it’s about the delivery mechanism, but what the affordances are of the delivery.”

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New Study Questions Effectiveness of Online Learning

Is online education as good as traditional, face-to-face education?

. . . Since a Department of Education meta-analysis last summer concluded that “on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction,” many advocates now consider the matter closed.

Not so fast, say researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The Education Department’s study was deeply flawed and its implications have been overblown, say the authors of a working paper released this month by the bureau.

“None of the studies cited in the widely-publicized meta-analysis released by the U.S. Department of Education included randomly-assigned students taking a full-term course, with live versus online delivery mechanisms, in settings that could be directly compared (i.e., similar instructional materials delivered by the same instructor),” they write. “The evidence base on the relative benefits of live versus online education is therefore tenuous at best.”

In spring 2007, they randomly assigned 327 volunteers enrolled in an introductory microeconomics course to either attend the class lectures live or watch them online. Both groups would have access to the same ancillary materials and access to office hours and graduate assistants; the only difference would be the mode of lecture delivery.

They found no statistically significant differences between the academic performances of the two groups generally. However, they did find that Hispanic students, male students, and low-achieving students in the online group fared significantly worse than their counterparts in the live-attendance group.

These findings do not exactly refute the conclusions of the Education Department’s meta-analysis. Nor is the new study without flaws of its own, which the authors enumerate in detail — though not the most obvious, which is that videotaped lectures are a relatively primitive form of online teaching, and, where they are used, are usually only part of the package.

But Rush says the main takeaway of the bureau’s experiment is not that he and his co-authors are right or that the Education Department’s study was wrong; just that there is much more work — much more precise work — to be done before any firm pronouncements can be made on the merits of online education relative to the face-to-face kind.

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Google Launches Cloud Based, Open Source Learning Platform

Google has launched an open-source learning platform called CloudCourse. Built entirely on App Engine, CloudCourse enables anyone to create and track learning activities. CloudCourse is available as an open source codeset and will be evolved as developers experiment and extend the functionality.

Find out more about CloudCourse here.

Can Twitter be used for Training & Development?

Twitter is a free social networking tool that keeps people connected with one another and with sources of information. Twitter users submit updates, called “tweets,” about what they are doing at the moment. These text-based tweets cannot exceed 140 characters. Twitter traffic is exploding and recently reached 50 million tweets per day. If you do a quick search using the tool, many brand name companies use Twitter as another way to connect and communicate with customers, partners, analysts and employees.

Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. Senders can restrict delivery to those in their circle of “friends.” Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, SMS text, RSS, or through any ever-growing number of applications such as Twirl and Facebook for mobile devices.

Can Twitter be used for training & development? How? A few ways to consider:

Provide real-time nuggets of learning
Even faster and more digestible than rapid e-learning, Twitter tweets could be used to distribute real-time/just-in-time nuggets of information as needed. Consider a Twitter network of geographically dispersed sales people who can instantly and constantly share competitive information and insights AS THEY OCCUR IN THE FIELD. Articles, news items, YouTube videos…almost anything can be shared instantly (and easily using the “shorten URL” feature).

Follow-up/archive method
Twitter is a great tool for communicating and asking questions on conference calls and webcasts. Another benefit: using Twitter enables you to keep a record of the questions and comments in a format not unlike a chat or blog post.

Reinforcement & reminders related to processes, policies and procedures
Twitter can be used to reinforce new content because it allows you to send and see quick snippets of information…ideal for sending out reminders, how-to’s, examples and clarifications…all important when it comes to maintaining consistency related to new processes, policies and procedures.

Are you using Twitter in the workplace? Is it a viable tool for learning and development? Post your ideas and comments below.

BTW, follow eCornell on Twitter at

Open Courses for Community Colleges

President Obama’s original plan for community colleges included $500 million to create free online courses that individual institutions could then customize for their students. That money never materialized — it was left out of the student aid legislation in last month’s health care bill.

But a foundation-supported effort with similar goals is actually growing. The National Repository for Online Courses (NROC) was hoping for that government money to help expand its existing vault of free courses, says Gary Lopez, the repository’s director. Still, with online education becoming mainstream and many community colleges experiencing enrollment booms beyond their physical capacity, NROC’s membership is on the rise. At the same time, the repository’s reliance on membership fees calls into question how “free” its courses actually are. .

. . While they are free to independent learners, NROC courses are not free to institutions — or, in at least one case, to the students who take them through an institution.

. . . Individuals can sign into the HippoCampus, NROC’s e-learning
portal, and take the courses for free. But if an institution or system wants to deploy the repository’s content at scale, they have to pay an enrollment-based “membership” fee, which can run from $3,000 to $50,000 per year (although the higher range generally applies to state education systems, not single institutions). If an institution or system wants to host the content on its own learning-management systems, it can cost more.

. . . Then again, NROC, which was built on grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, is on the brink of achieving self-sufficiency — something most OER projects can only dream of.

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Blackboard Unveils New Learning Suite Incorporating Social Networking Tools

Blackboard announced today the release of a new version of its widely used e-learning suite, with an emphasis on incorporating social networking tools such as wikis, YouTube, Flickr, and Slideshare. “We provided a very intuitive process to search for and add content from YouTube, Flickr and Slideshare to a course without ever having to leave the LMS,” said Stacey Fontenot, a Blackboard vice president, in an e-mail. “And this content can be leveraged not only as stand-alone course content but used in different places like discussion-board posts and assessment questions to provide educators with more dynamic ways to engage and assess learners.” Version 9.1 also has tools that will help better organize and evaluate student contributions to course wikis, Fontenot said. Certain parts of the new version were designed “with WebCT clients in mind,” she added, as part of an effort to “create a familiar environment” for those campuses that used WebCT for their learning-management needs before Blackboard bought the competitor in 2005.

Texas Kills Its TeleCampus

The University of Texas System announced on April 8 that it would shutter its pioneering UT TeleCampus, laying off 23 employees and reconfiguring the online education entity into a smaller operation within the system’s central office.

“Over the last 12 years, the TeleCampus has been successful in helping the campuses develop and administer online courses,” said Anthony de Bruyn, director of public affairs for the Texas system. “As a result, their mission is complete.”

The idea that online education at the University of Texas (or at least some of its campuses) has developed to the point that a centralized driver like the UT TeleCampus is no longer necessary is certainly feasible, said Richard Garrett, who analyzes online learning for Eduventures, a research and consulting firm.

In many ways, such a change — which Garrett characterized as the first of its kind — would be evidence of maturation, and a logical evolution, he said. “It’s reasonable to begin to expect structural changes like this, where the more successful that online becomes, the less it makes sense to have separate structures to support it,” said Garrett.

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