iPads on Campus

Seton Hill University, a Roman Catholic institution in Pennsylvania, announced this week that it would be giving Apple’s new computing tablet to each of its 2,000-odd full-time students when they arrive on campus in the fall. George Fox University, a Christian institution in Oregon, will expand its annual laptop giveaway to first-year students to offer students a choice between a Macbook and an iPad. The year after that, there will be no more choice: Everybody will get iPads.

The e-learning giant Blackboard, meanwhile, today is announcing that it is launching an app for the iPad that will allow students to access their courses from the new device.

But the arrival of the long-awaited device has also prompted questions. On Educause’s CIO listserv last week, higher-ed technologists wondered aloud about the costs and benefits of the efforts of some campuses try to seed their student bodies with the gadget du jour.

Greg Smith, the CIO at George Fox, responded, saying that universities should not worry about justifying iPad giveaways with precise cost-versus-value analyses. The shifts that are happening in higher-ed technology — particularly from bound textbooks and research materials to electronic versions — are “bigger than the iPad,” said Smith. Universities know this change is coming, he said, so they should do what they can to enable it. “The iPad appears to be the perfect device for information at your fingertips which places it in the role to ignite the change,” Smith said.

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The Human Element

A growing body of research has all but obliterated the notion that distance education is inherently less effective than classroom education. But even the most ardent distance-ed evangelists cannot deny persistent evidence suggesting that students are more likely to drop out of online programs than traditional ones. The phenomenon has many explanations, not least the fact that what often makes students choose the flexibility of online learning — being too busy to enroll in a classroom course — can also make it harder for them to keep up with their studies.

But Douglas E. Hersh, dean of educational programs and technology at Santa Barbara City College, believes there is another major factor driving the gap between retention rates in face-to-face programs and those in the rapidly growing world of distance education: the lack of a human touch.

And unlike the reality of adult students’ busy lives, Hersh says the human-touch problem can be solved. In fact, he thinks he knows how.

Hersh’s solution is to incorporate more video and audio components into the course-delivery mechanism. Most professors who teach online already incorporate short video and audio clips into their courses, according to a 2009 by the Campus Computing Project. But it is rarer, Hersh says, for professors to use video of themselves to teach or interact with their online students — largely because the purveyors of major learning management systems do not orient their platforms to feature that method of delivery.

That is why Hersh convinced Santa Barbara in 2008 to abandon Blackboard, the LMS industry leader, in favor of Moodle’s open-source platform, which he used to build the straightforwardly named “Human Presence Learning Environment.” The interface is designed so that professors can deliver lessons and messages using videos recorded with a Webcam. It also shows students who among their instructors or classmates are logged into Skype, the video-chat service, in case they want to have a live, face-to-face conversation. As an alternative to text, students using computers that have built-in recording equipment can post audio responses to discussion threads.

. . . For Hersh, engagement goes hand-in-hand with audio-visual communication. The more that exchanges occurring within an online learning environment resemble those that occur in classrooms, he says, the more that students will feel connected to their professors and classmates, and the more likely they will be to stay in a program.

. . . Hersh admits that this return to the emotional dynamics of face-to-face learning may come at a cost: The text-based medium that currently dominates online learning environments may eliminate the prejudices and distractions inherent to visual communication, making conversations in text-based learning environments more focused.

But communicating solely via text is also alienating, says Hersh. Weighing the theoretical advantages of purely textual discourse against the demonstrated engagement benefits of presence-oriented teaching, the latter wins, he says.

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U.S. Dept. of Education Releases National Education Technology Plan

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Technology Education has released an 80-page draft of a five-year National Educational Technology Plan (NETP), which presents a model of 21st-century learning powered by technology, with goals and recommendations in five important areas: learning, assessment, teaching, infrastructure, and productivity. Titled “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” the report advocates empowering students to take control of their own learning by providing flexibility on several dimensions.

“A core set of standards-based concepts and competencies form the basis of what all students should learn, but beyond that students and educators have options for engaging in learning: large groups, small groups, and work tailored to individual goals, needs, and interests,” the report says. “To prepare students to learn throughout their lives and in settings far beyond classrooms, we must change what and how we teach to match what people need to know, how they learn, and where and when they learn and change our perception of who needs to learn. We must bring 21st century technology into learning in meaningful ways to engage, motivate, and inspire learners of all ages to achieve.”

The draft technology plan highlights Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, which has built an online one-stop shop to connect teaching resources, assessments, and system-wide data. Teachers use a Web-based system called the Electronic Curriculum Resource Assessment Tool to create and access lesson plans, worksheets, assessment tools, and other resources tied to district-approved standards. Students take assessments online or on paper, and the results help link teachers to resources that will help address specific students’ needs.

“It brings joy to my heart that learning is the first goal,” says J. Ana Donaldson, the recently elected president of the Association of Educational Communication and Technology, about the plan. “Learners are engaged inside and outside the school environment.”

In Public-Private Partnership, Community College Allows Students to Bypass Waiting Lists–For a Fee

Months after purchasing the Penn Foster Education Group, a for-profit career training provider, the Princeton Review is entering the distance education market by teaming up with community colleges to offer fast-track allied health-care programs to students who are willing to pay higher tuition to bypass long waiting lists. While the college pioneering the system sees the move as providing an important new option, some faculty members are calling the idea a cash grab that taints the traditional community college commitment to equity.

The Princeton Review will pilot this new public-private initiative at Bristol Community College, in southeastern Massachusetts. By this fall, the partnership will expand the enrollment capacity of the community college’s programs in general health science, medical information and coding, and massage therapy. Eventually, it will expand to offer further space in the college’s nursing and radiologic technology programs.

The programs offered will primarily be online, but the Princeton Review will also provide a new space near the college for students to take lab and in-person supplements to their courses. The program will use Bristol’s accreditation and instructors. Other than the fact that these programs are being offered online, the only difference between these programs and Bristol’s current allied health care programs – which the college will maintain with waiting lists – is that students who wish to take the programs sponsored by the Princeton Review will have to pay more in tuition.

. . . [O]fficials from the Princeton Review make no bones about the fact that they expect to turn a profit from the deal. They believe this public-private model positions the programs between the face-to-face programs at the community college and those at the on-demand and high-tuition proprietary institutions with which they will now compete.

Bristol officials say the expanded capacity in these high-demand programs is essential. John J. Sbrega, president of the community college, noted that the college received about 1,000 applicants for its 72-student nursing program last year.

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‘Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent’

In his new book, Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning (Jossey-Bass), Peter Smith argues that the country needs to reach deeper into its population than it historically has to produce a sufficient number of educated and skilled workers, and that the thousands of current colleges cannot do that job. Following are excerpts of an interview conducted via email by Insider Higher Ed.

Q. Define the “personal learning” that you think is undervalued/under-recognized by the current higher education system.

A. Students are rarely asked, in depth, what they want from their college education and are almost never engaged in an ongoing conversation about it with someone who can affect their higher education experience. Until institutions personally connect the learner with the curriculum and the college experience, the learner is vulnerable. And the ‘at risk’ learner is always more vulnerable.

Additionally, the older one becomes the more experience one has to compare with what they are being taught. So, to fail to integrate someone’s experience into the curriculum both trivializes and frustrates them. That’s why starting with the assessment of prior learning is such an educationally important thing to do.

Q. What are the developments (you call them “game changers”) that make you believe the time is right to create an alternate path to a postsecondary education for these students?

A. You see evidence every day. When AARP solicits proposals for a learning platform for its members, the balance has shifted. When the Peer-to-Peer University moves into its second “term,” the balance has shifted. When StraighterLine is recognized for its courseware alone, the balance has shifted. When the global OpencourseWare Consortium gets three million hits a month, the balance has shifted.

In the book, I devoted a chapter to the “End of Scarcity” and its impact on higher education. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this trend. Colleges are built and organized around scarcity – the expertise of faculty is in short supply, classrooms and labs are limited because they are expensive, and the authority to offer a course of study is limited. Additionally, reputation is built around who you exclude as much as it is who you include and who succeeds. In fact, the whole concept of meritocracy is built on the notion of scarcity because there is not enough room “at the top” for everyone.

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eCornell Named to List of Top 20 Leadership Training Companies

eCornell has been named to Training Industry, Inc.’s 2010 list of The Top 20 Leadership Training Companies. The first annual list was assembled by Training Industry’s review committee to include companies that have demonstrated experience and excellence in providing leadership training services to a variety of clients.

A complete list of the Top 20 Leadership Training Companies can be seen online at www.trainingindustry.com/leadership/top-companies-listings/2010/2010-top-20-leadership-companies.aspx.

Selection of the Top 20 Leadership Training Companies was based on the following criteria:

  • Thought leadership and influence on the leadership training industry.
  • Industry recognition and innovation.
  • Breadth of programs offered and audiences served.
  • Delivery methods utilized.
  • Company size and growth potential.
  • Strength of clients.
  • Geographic reach.
  • Experience in serving the market.

“Leadership training represents one of the broadest content segments of the training industry,” said Ken Taylor, Chief Operating Officer of Training Industry, Inc. “Our list of the Top 20 companies highlights the best in class organizations focused on the leadership skills critical to driving business performance.”

“It is certainly rewarding to be considered in the top echelon of leadership training providers,” said Chris Proulx, CEO of eCornell. “This is a strong affirmation of the significant capabilities, resources and experience we have assembled at eCornell and brought to bear on our clients’ leadership and management development initiatives.”

New Study: Online Education up 17% to 4.6 Million

The 2009 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reveals that enrollment rose by nearly 17 percent from a year earlier. The survey of more than 2,500 colleges and universities nationwide finds approximately 4.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2008, the most recent term for which figures are available.

. . .

“Online education continues to establish itself as demand remains strong and new applications materialize, such as contingency planning for campus emergencies,” said Frank Mayadas, special advisor, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. “We believe demand will fuel sustained growth especially within public universities and community colleges, raising the need to share research, optimal methods for faculty training, and other best practices to new levels of importance.” The survey is funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The complete survey report, “Learning on Demand: Online Education in the United States, 2009” is available on the Sloan Consortium Web site.

Predictions for 2010

At the start of each year, contributors to eLearn Magazine predict what changes are afoot for the coming 12 months. This year’s installment features the thoughts of such e-learning luminaries as Stephen Downes, Roger Schank, Jay Cross, Elliott Masie, Allison Rossett, Clark Quinn, and others.

Princeton Review Partners with Penn Foster, Aims to Create Largest Online College Ever

A month after completing its first foray into online higher education by acquiring the distance education provider Penn Foster, the Princeton Review has set its next goal: to help create the largest online college ever. And it thinks it can do it in five years.

The company announced yesterday that it is entering into a joint venture with the National Labor College — an accredited institution that offers blended-learning programs to 200 students, most of whom are adults — to establish what would be called the College for Working Families. The college would offer courses tailored to the needs of union members and their families, beginning this fall.

. . . The new institution would start off awarding associate degrees, with aspirations to running bachelor’s and master’s programs down the line. Tuition would be similar to that at most community colleges.

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How the iPhone Could Reboot Education

How do you educate a generation of students eternally distracted by the internet, cellphones and video games? Easy. You enable them by handing out free iPhones — and then integrating the gadget into your curriculum.

That’s the idea Abilene Christian University has to refresh classroom learning. Located in Texas, the private university just finished its first year of a pilot program, in which 1,000 freshman students had the choice between a free iPhone or an iPod Touch.

The initiative’s goal was to explore how the always-connected iPhone might revolutionize the classroom experience with a dash of digital interactivity. Think web apps to turn in homework, look up campus maps, watch lecture podcasts and check class schedules and grades. For classroom participation, there’s even polling software for Abilene students to digitally raise their hand.

The verdict? It’s working quite well. 2,100 Abilene students, or 48 percent of the population, are now equipped with a free iPhone. Fully 97 percent of the faculty population has iPhones, too. The iPhone is aiding Abilene in giving students the information they need — when they want it, wherever they want it, said Bill Rankin, a professor of medieval studies who helped plan the initiative. . . .

The traditional classroom, where an instructor assigns a textbook, is heading toward obsolescence. Why listen to a single source talk about a printed textbook that will inevitably be outdated in a few years? That setting seems stale and hopelessly limited when pitted against the internet, which opens a portal to a live stream of information provided by billions of minds. . . .

These are the specific educational problems Abilene is targeting with the iPhone. Instead of standing in front of a classroom and
talking for an hour, Rankin instructs his students to use their iPhones to look up relevant information on the fly. Then, the students can discuss the information they’ve found, and Rankin leads the dialogue by helping assess which sources are accurate and useful.

It’s like a mashup of a 1960s teach-in with smartphone technology from the 2000s.

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