February 2011 Archives

Educause Learning Initiatives (ELI) 2011

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I had the opportunity to speak at ELI this year with a good friend and colleague, Cole Camplese.  'Openness' seemed to be the theme throughout the event, with several featured sessions focusing on open education, open courseware and open online learning repositories.  Overall, some very interesting thoughts about where education might go in the future as it relates to open access to high quality educational content.

David Wiley keynoted the second day, and gave a very broad perspective of Open Education.  He covered the usual territory of creative commons licensing, various open courseware initiatives and how we need to connect openness with more analytics.  By really taking a close look at data from, for example, LMC/CMS systems, we can identify who needs help and intervene much earlier.  He discussed an approach that involved "intelligent tutoring", akin to the way Amazon.com or Netflixx recommends movies for users, where our systems have built-in analytics to better cater for our students' learning.

David covered specific open courseware initiatives and associated models, and he discussed one that really jumped out at me:

Western Governors University

The majority of WGU's programs are accredited.  Nearly everything can be completed online.  But...they don't offer any courses! The program is entirely assessment driven, where students can take professionally crafted assessment instruments and receive credit based on their performance on assessments.  If you want to learn something but don't have the knowledge to pass the assessment, one of WGU's faculty will work with you to find external resources that cover the content, such as materials from open courseware initiatives or online tutorials. 

I need to learn more about WGU, but the model is certainly intriguing.  An accredited university that does not offer any courses, but rather builds on the immense content found online in open content repositories and other spaces.  Entirely assessment driven.  Will this model begin to permeate online universities, or is this something that only a handful of universities will experiment with?

Mobile Learning

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I just uploaded our second research kit over on the "SITE Research" page dealing with mobile learning.  Similar to our research kit on assessing educational games and simulations, this kit contains:
  • Current research, specifically meta-analysis articles with summaries of current research efforts.
  • Examples of specific studies with associated methods.
  • Specific variables of interest.
  • Several different research instruments.
  • Conferences and journals dealing with mobile learning.
  • Penn State and external resources to help interested instructors experiment with mobile learning.
If you have any comments or questions about the research kit, please do not hesitate to email me at pursel@psu.edu. Note that this is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of mobile learning research in education; rather a starting point for faculty interested in the application and/or research of mobile devices for learning.

Reading Compliance

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As part of our Teaching Support Grant initiative (which we are currently accepting proposals via our application page) I get the opportunity to work with a wide variety of faculty on research projects that involve enhancing teaching and learning.  One such project involves the topic of reading compliance.  I recently sat down with several undergraduate students as part of a focus group, exploring the topic of students' reading habits.  Some of the interesting discussions points:

  • Case studies/Journals vs. textbooks: Unanimously, students indicated that case studies and journals are much more valuable to their understanding of concepts.  One student mentioned that case studies specifically feel more "first person", that the student can put himself/herself in the shoes of the writer and really see, first hand, what the author was attempting to do.  Compared to textbooks, which were referred to as "third person". The authors of most textbooks simply provide the factual information in a manner that infers "this is the way it is, 100% of the time". 
  • Students reported that they read case studies and journals more frequently, even if the instructor assigns this type of reading spontaneously ("I just found this great article on topic X, please take a look at this before tomorrow's class").  In addition to being a case study or journal article, the students also reported that this type of email and attachment shows that the professor is actively seeking new types of information to enhance student understanding.  By simply sending out an article via email, it shows the students that the instructor is thinking about the class and on the lookout for quality materials.  If the instructor thinks it's important enough to send out an email, students often think it's important enough to read.
  • One big complaint is that some instructors simply lecture straight out of the book during class times.  Some students expressed disappointment specifically when a professor uses the Power Point slides that come packaged with the book.  Students mentioned active discussion in class of the book's content as a big determinant for whether they read or not.  If students need to come prepared to talk about the content, students reported a high motivation to read the assignment.
We are in the process of conducting additional focus groups on the topic and hope to provide a short summary towards the end of the spring semester or over the summer.

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