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MOOCs Need to Fight for Relevancy?

Posted on Feb 27, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.Now that online learning programs, particularly MOOCs, have attracted significant amounts of attention, those programs need to figure out how to maintain that attention, claims The Parthenon Group. Throughout 2012, MOOCs were a constant topic of discussion, but Haven Ladd, a partner in The Parthenon Group’s Education Practice, says that “The world needs a more responsive education system with online offerings a high priority, though MOOCs are but one part of the equation, we’ve yet to see many institutions develop sustainable financial models for an online degree program that strikes the correct harmony of meeting the needs of target students and a school’s mission and resources.”

The demand for online courses is rising, and institutions have consequently started offering them. Previously, adults looking to earn master’s degrees were the targets of online education programs, but now, those programs account for only one-third of all online programs. As online programs become more available for undergraduates and K-12 students, relative shares are likely to shift further. The shift from brick-and-mortar to online brings at least three challenges with it, though.

The first challenge is recognizing that “online students need fundamentally different support services from on-campus students.” Exemplified by what happened in many MOOC courses, initial enrollment can be high, but retention can be an issue. Consequently, if institutions desire to maintain strong online learning programs, a support structure to help ensure students stay enrolled and continue to make progress. Failing to do this could result in programs bleeding students and losing credibility.

The second challenge is that there is not yet a good revenue model to which institutions can refer. The Parthenon Group frames the matter optimistically, claiming that “lack of clarity now means room for opportunity.” No one is quite sure how to capitalize on online programs similar to MOOCs, but it is a sure thing that the institutions that figure out how to implement an effective revenue model will experience great success, while institutions that fails to design and implement a good model will fall behind.

The third challenge is that, while demand for online courses is rising, simply taking material and putting it online is not adequate. Online learning differs significantly from traditional education, so it makes sense that institutions must take different steps to properly implement and maintain online programs. If an institution is interested in having good online programs, then that institution will need to fully invest itself in researching, developing, and maintaining respectable programs.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

The Real Trouble With Higher Ed

Posted on Feb 27, 2013

Paper pointing arrows at the words A,B,C, and D.Of late, there has been talk regarding a “crisis” in higher education. Those on the left argue that the increasing popularity of online learning is indicative of the fact that traditional higher education is failing to meet the needs to students, whereas those on the right contend that students may be better off diving right into the business world. Beth Rubin, assistant professor at DePaul University School for New Learning, though, believes that people are discussing the wrong issue.

In The Real Trouble With Online Higher Ed, Dr. Rubin suggests that “the problem is the current system’s failure to develop essential competencies in a cost-effective way.” Rubin likens traditional courses with meals prepared by star chefs. Each meal differs from chef to chef, and sometimes on a day-to-day basis, just as each course differs depending on each professor’s educational philosophy. To that extent, the development and administration of a traditional course is inefficient, which therefore leads to higher costs.

Rubin also acknowledges that online courses seem to struggle with the exact opposite issue. Online courses can be efficiently developed and deployed to thousands of students, but courses lack depth, “often can’t develop complex skills,” and fail to provide unique feedback on a per-student basis. Ultimately, Rubin feels that “it is efficient, but some students don’t get the individualized feedback needed to develop their skills.”

In a world where, according to Rubin, traditional university courses are carefully-crafted and unique meals at a classy restaurant and online courses are an “educational McDonalds” where “the service is fast but the intellectual nutrition may not be high,” what are we to do to solve the problem that exists in higher education? Rubin suggests that we pay more attention to a blended approach to learning. Both online learning and traditional courses offer benefits, but there is no reason to choose between the two when we can have the best of both worlds through blended learning.

Josh Luthi is a computer science student at the University of Kansas and has a penchant for politics.

The Offline Aspects of the Blended Classroom

Posted on Feb 27, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.Quite often we discuss technology in tandem with blended learning. We focus on the digital, the virtual, the weightless aspects of the learning model. People talk about leveraging existing technology, interactive whiteboards, apps, the cloud.

But what about the ergonomics – the desks, the chairs, the floors, the lighting? Where do the cords go? If blended learning is supposed to surpass the rigidity of the traditional classroom, it needs to effectively open up the classroom in all aspects of education – both physically and virtually.

American School & University Magazine describes how a blended learning classroom ought to look:

“The physical environment of these learning spaces should be comfortable with good acoustics, accessibility, security, lighting and air quality—flexible spaces in which varying sized groups can interact and collaborate. Successful integration of technology and physical design of these spaces requires appropriate fixtures, furnishings and equipment.”

I think the idea of “flexible spaces” is key here. Spaces need to support collaboration and individualized learning lessons as well as teacher led instruction periods. The 18×24” desk-chair combo isn’t going to cut it with the demands of a blended learning model.

Tables are a step in the right direction, but I think most of us will agree that something like these iGroup SmartDesks would be pretty cool to have. With locking wheels on each leg, they can be easily organized into single desks or collaborative work stations. They accommodate laptops, desktops, and tablets with power and data ports, monitor mounts, and optional tablet integration into the actual desk top itself.

As far as cords go (we aren’t completely wireless yet), SmartDesk also makes FITT Computer Floors  that offer a very minimalistic approach to cord storage, though any kind of cable organization system would suffice.

An interesting article on school design from ArchitectureAU  offers some enlightening thoughts from David and Mary Medd, classroom architects from across the pond in the 1960s:

In order to “combine exploration with achievement” at school “the homogenous character of the conventional classroom had to be destroyed” and replaced by “richness and variety of environment, with different kinds of spaces: a complex of interrelated opportunities, with differences in scale, equipment, finishes, lighting, colour, acoustic quality and general character.” The total of these design decisions (the interior of each setting) gives children, teachers, and visitors environmental cues for activity and behaviour.

There are more challenges to keep in mind than just the availability and functionality of technology. From the comfort of the chairs, to the brightness and hue of the lights, blending a classroom isn’t all digital.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.

Telepractice in Arcadia

Posted on Feb 12, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.DeSoto County school district in Arcadia, Florida uses “telepractice” to provide their students with speech therapy. Telepractice, a relatively new term to me, is basically online speech therapy. DeSoto decided to go the virtual route simply because they could not find a speech and language pathologist (SLP) who they felt fit the standards of their school. Through games, document sharing, videos, and live, one-on-one interaction, students in Arcadia are having success.

With help from PresenceLearning, the school is able to connect students with a qualified speech and language pathologist. Assistant Director Tammy Cassels explains, “We especially liked the idea of PresenceLearning for the secondary level students because they generally do not like to be singled out and pulled out of class for therapy. We thought this might be better because they can utilize the computer lab.”

At first look, PresenceLearning and the utilization of telepractice, or more specifically, teletherapy, might seem like a no-brainer for schools that don’t have a qualified SLP at hand, but that is not entirely true. PresenceLearning’s cameo in Education Weekly brings up some interesting points of concern.

The first, they provide, is that therapists must be licensed both in the state where they work and where their students are located. This poses the question: why go online? If there is a qualified speech therapist within reasonable distance, having them physically present during therapy has its advantages. The main benefit of having a SLP physically in the school is that they would be able to utilize moments in the classroom as teaching lessons – not just the amount of time allotted to them in their one-on-one therapy sessions. Interestingly though, as Cassels noted earlier, the low-key, hands-off, distanced aspect of teletherapy is what students like most.

Deborah Dixon, the director of school services for ASHA, provides another concern, “The reason the speech-language pathologist is in the school is to help the child access the curriculum and provide supports and services to do that.” Education Weekly goes on to note that when therapists work with students in the classroom, they are able to give the students’ teachers an example of how to work accordingly with them.

Overall, the use of telepractice and teletherapy in schools is a growing presence. Of its effectiveness, Education Weekly provides, “One small study about teletherapy suggests it could be promising. A 2009 study of 34 children in rural Ohio, in which half the students used online speech therapy for four months while the others used traditional face-to-dace therapy for four months, and then switched, found that both groups’ progress was the same.” In terms of meeting standards and providing students, I’d say telepractice is much better than nothing at all.

Blended Learning and Community Interaction

Posted on Feb 5, 2013

Pieces of paper pointing at a brain.Last May, Medina High School received an eTech Ohio grant to fund a blended learning program at their school. eTech Ohio aims to, “provide the leadership and support that promotes access to and use of all forms of educational technology needed to advance the education and accelerate the learning of the citizens of Ohio.” Shannon Conley’s Local and American History class made good use of this format and the technology available to them by creating their very own app, Discover Medina History.

The app was created with the tools provided by Mobile Historical, a location-based mobile app designed to “curate the city” (of one’s choice) through the use of geo-located historical texts, archival film and images, oral history (and other) audio, and short documentary videos. They currently have seven different functional cities curated with three more on the way.

In describing their first city, Cleveland, Mobile Historical notes that its creation, “…allowed historians to tell stories and share primary source documents and multimedia presentations based on the audience’s current location, adding a meaningful new discovery layer to public history programming.”

The ability to add a “meaningful new discovery layer” holds true in the case of Medina. The students are the historians. While students could access these kinds of documents and records in a traditional school setting, they could not be as involved with them as they are in a blended learning model. Rather than just compiling their historical accounts into a journal or class book, they are creating a living, growing thing that changes and evolves. And they’re actively participating in their community.

Conley describes her student’s involvement with the app as, “digitizing our (Medina, Ohio) local history.” Students actually go out into the community and collect stories from locals. They visit landmarks and dig for stories that portray the quintessential Medina. Not to mention they write the app’s articles too.

Mobile Historical boasts an arguably cheap price – around $3,500 for the app, noting that most professional apps cost nearly $35,000. An app would be the overall goal to shoot for, but for schools that don’t have the funding, a website would work just as well.

Kyle Vineyard is a senior majoring in English at the University of Kansas. He has a passion for the written word and a soft spot for rural America.