Bonuses for struggling venture rile some

Ten employees of the University of Illinois’s Global Campus were rewarded with performance bonuses while the online program struggled to attract and maintain students, according to reports that followed a May 21 announcement that the program would be reorganized and operate on a smaller budget.

University trustees voted May 21 to decentralize the Global Campus initiative, giving more power to the system’s three campuses and trimming the annual budget from about $9 million to $1.75 million, according to a report detailing Global Campus changes released by a group of eight university officials.

The Global Campus currently has about 400 students–thousands less than once expected–and has struggled to gain traction since its launch during the 2007-08 academic year. Empowering each Illinois campus to manage its own distance-education program could attract 5,000 new students and start 15 new programs within five years, according to the restructuring report, which stressed that the nation’s economic downturn would not longer support "duplication of … offices and services" that could be construed as an "unnecessary luxury."

"Resources are scarce, and greater consolidation and efficiencies within the university need to be explored," the report said. "…We need to pursue a thinned-down, more flexible and efficient structure, drawing from an enhancing existing resources and efforts rather than trying to remake them in a new guise."

The university paid out more than $120,000 in bonuses for Global Campus employees, according to a May 22 report in the Chicago Tribune. University President Joseph White told the Tribune that the employees earned the bonus payments, but a source close to the university’s Global Campus restructuring told eCampus News that college officials were "shocked" by the revelations.

"Bonuses are most rare at public universities," said the source, who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of bonuses for the struggling online program. "We have annual raises, equity raises, et cetera, but not bonuses. A successful employee is rewarded by praise or successfully completing the process for a promotion. So, it is shocking to faculty and staff members that bonuses–especially of this magnitude–were doled out at the University of Illinois."

Tom Hardy, a spokesman for the university, said in an interview with eCampus News that the bonus payments were built into the fiscal 2008 budget to provide incentive for employees to ensure a successful launch for Global Campus.

"It was the plan to provide these performance incentive payments based on work that had to be done to get Global Campus up and running," Hardy said, adding that the bonuses averaged $8,000 per employee and were a one-time incentive. "The reason for the program was to inspire some entrepreneurial, personal, and professional investment on the part of the team there."

Since Global Campus enrollment stagnated last year, Illinois decision makers eliminated the bonus program, he said.

"While many other things were working well for Global Campus, the pipeline of products in terms of course work was not filling up as robustly as had been anticipated," Hardy said. "When there was disappointing enrollment, it makes it hard to provide incentive payments."

Ray Schroeder, director of the University of Illinois Springfield’s Office of Technology-Enhanced Learning, said the Global Campus 2.0 effort would incorporate the expertise of online-learning authorities across the university system.

"People with experience were not very involved with the [original] Global Campus," Schroeder said, adding that officials will focus on attracting community college students to the revamped distance-education courses.

Current Global Campus students, Schroeder said, will not see their academic schedules or coursework affected by officials’ decision to redo the online initiative.

"It should be seamless for the students who are enrolled in the Global Campus," he said.

Global Campus 2.0 is expected to begin in January, officials said. The report outlines strategies for bolstering enrollment over the next five years, including the start of online degree programs in environmental science, criminology, and psychology.

The current Global Campus offers two undergraduate degrees–in business administration and nursing–and four master’s degree options. The university has eight separate undergraduate and 30 master’s degrees that can be earned online.

Schroeder said more details of the new Global Campus will emerge after the July 22-23 Board of Trustees meetings, where chancellors from all three Illinois campuses will submit plans for how and when to expand online degree options.

Material from the Associate Press was used in this report.

Links:

Global Campus 2.0 report

University of Illinois Global Campus

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Study: Virtual schools can help cut costs

New research suggests that more K-12 public school students will take classes online and will have longer school days in the next decade–and academic improvement and cost savings are two big benefits.

Online courses are already commonplace in higher education and are growing in popularity at the K-12 level as well. Orlando-based Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has quickly become the nation’s largest virtual school, serving nearly 65,000 students in the 2007-08 school year.

"Policy makers and educators have proposed expanding learning time in elementary through high school grades as a way to improve students’ academic performance, but online coursework hasn’t been on their radar," said Catherine Cavanaugh, associate professor at the University of Florida’s College of Education and author of the report, "Getting Students More Learning Time Online: Distance Education in Support of Expanded Learning Time in K-12 Schools."

Cavanaugh’s report found that the average yearly cost of online learning for a full-time student was about $4,300 in 2008, based on a survey of 20 virtual schools in 14 states.  The national average cost per student in a traditional public school in 2006, the most recent year in which data were available, was more than $9,100. Cost estimates included course development, teaching, and administrative and technical expenses.

"Online programs have little or no cost for instructional facilities, transportation, and related staff," Cavanaugh said. "The value of distance education also increases when considering the broad range of available online courses."

And while virtual schools will still have technology and instructional costs, "we do think it is more cost-effective–you don’t have to worry about buildings for the kids, transportation, food, so you don’t have all of those overhead costs," said Holly Sagues, chief strategist for FLVS.

"Over the next decade, we expect an explosion in the use of virtual schooling as a seamless synthesis between the traditional classroom and online learning," Cavanaugh said.

The report states that the number of K-12 students taking online courses increased from about 200,000 in 2001 to almost 2 million in 2007, and it suggests the number could easily reach several million by 2012.  

"We fully support that trend, and we see it here–we grow from 25 to 40 percent each year and usually have a waiting list for students to get into our courses," said Sagues.

Sagues cautioned that online schools are not a one-size-fits-all solution.

"Students are all different and they all have different learning styles, so for some students full online learning works great, others may be more successful in a blended model, and some might be most successful in a traditional school building," she said.

The number of teachers applying to teach in virtual education programs is increasing along with the number of students enrolling in them. Universities and teacher colleges have started to include online teaching components in their teacher-education programs.

The report highlights states such as Georgia and Wisconsin, which have added online teaching requirements to their teacher certifications.

Cavanaugh suggested that investing in virtual education could give students access to classes before and after the regular school day, and also during the day–essentially lengthening the school day without requiring money for new buildings, additional staff, professional development, and operating costs.

And while students might not welcome longer school days or school years with open arms, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have mentioned both as possible ways to keep U.S. students competitive with their peers in foreign nations.

"Even a few days’ difference in learning time can determine whether a school makes adequate yearly progress," Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh described a school day that begins early and ends late, with students attending traditional classes on designated weekdays and attending online classes in a computer lab setting on other days.

A longer school day allows for sports, recreation, clubs, and enrichment activities, and students might use internet-capable phones and mobile devices, such as netbooks, to access online courses and assignments while on the school bus and on long field trips, she said.

The emergence and staying power of virtual schools has prompted researchers to examine not whether online education is effective, but rather, in what situations and under what circumstances it is most effective.

"Virtual schooling and online learning fit in extremely well with the emerging trend to embrace the same technologies that our young people are using in their everyday lives and apply them in education," Cavanaugh said. "Schools that don’t embrace online learning soon will be viewed as limiting the learning opportunities of their students."

Links:

Getting Students More Learning Time Online: Distance Education in Support of Expanded Learning Time in K-12 Schools

Florida Virtual School

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Obama names first Hispanic to High Court

President Barack Obama on May 26 named federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor as his choice to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter–making her the first Hispanic in history picked to wear the robes of a High Court justice, and giving some education professionals hope that she will be assertive for education rights.

If confirmed by the Senate, Sotomayor, 54, would join Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the current Supreme Court and the third in U.S. history. While she was born in New York, her parents immigrated to the states from Puerto Rico.

Obama and Sotomayor both noted the historic nature of the appointment. The president said a Hispanic on the court would mark another step toward the goal of "equal justice under law."

Sotomayor said she grew up in poor surroundings and never dreamed she would one day be nominated for the nation’s highest court.

"My heart today is bursting with gratitude," Sotomayor said from the White House podium moments after being introduced by Obama.

Brian W. Jones, senior council for with Dow Lohnes PLLC, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that says it has the nation’s largest and most diverse education practice devoted primarily to the postsecondary sector, said Sotomayor’s nomination is positive on a few different levels.

"Personally, I think it’s a positive step for the country that we would have another female member of the court. From an education standpoint, we have a growingly diverse education system … so it will be a positive thing to have a Hispanic justice," he said.

He noted that, because it is generally accepted that Sotomayor falls on the liberal side of the spectrum, she has a perspective of civil-rights issues that is probably somewhat more assertive than those of the conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

"It’s important for school districts and postsecondary [schools] to have someone who takes a much more firm stance on the rights and responsibilities public institutions have to their students and employees," he said.

Tom Finaly, vice president of administration at the online TUI University, said he believes Sotomayor’s moderate liberal rulings and personal background could make her a big proponent of higher education.

"From what I have read, her parents who moved from Puerto Rico instilled in her and her brother the importance of education," Finaly said. "She went on to be incredibly successful in high school, at Princeton undergrad, and later at Yale Law School. I would imagine she will be a supporter of legislation that creates greater access to higher education for minorities, working parents, and economically disadvantaged people. She will also serve as a great inspiration for Latinas to further their education."

Cynthia Zane, president of Hilbert College in Hamburg, N.Y., said that while she didn’t know of any education-centered decisions Sotomayor has made, she thinks her understanding of the importance to preserve the access and opportunity for students who would not be able to go to college makes her a perfect candidate.
 
"Her life story, from my perspective, is similar to so many students who come to Hilbert. Her mother and father didn’t go to college. She’s a first-generation college student. And she went to Princeton and Yale because of educational scholarships," Zane said. "I think someone whose life was transformed by access to higher education and funding and scholarships will be able to understand the journey that many students today are trying to complete."

Sotomayor might be best known as the judge that "saved baseball," as Obama said in his introduction of his nominee. In 1995, she made a key ruling that brought Major League Baseball back to the nation after a strike.

When Sotomayor was U.S. District Court judge in 2001, she ruled that a dyslexic woman who failed the bar exam to become a lawyer five times should be given special treatment when taking the exam again. Sotomayor said that the Americans with Disabilities Act provided that the woman should be given extra time to take the test, be allowed the use of a computer for the exam, and be given large-print questions.

She is also very involved in the Development School for Youth program, which sponsors workshops for inner-city high school students, according to a press release from the White House. Each semester, about 70 students attend 16 weekly workshops, where Sotomayor is a leader, that are designed to teach them how to function in a work setting.

Obama said Sotomayor has more experience as a judge than any current member of the High Court had when nominated, adding she has earned the "respect of colleagues on the bench," the admiration of lawyers who appear in her court, and the "adoration of her clerks."

Sotomayor spent five years as an assistant district attorney in New York County before joining a private practice in New York City, where she worked for four years. Sotomayor was nominated by George H.W. Bush to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992 and was nominated by Bill Clinton to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York in 1997. If confirmed, she will replace Souter as the only justice with experience as a trial judge.

Her 1997 nomination was held up for months, a delay Democrats attributed to Republican concerns that she might someday become a Supreme Court nominee. Sotomayor was finally confirmed by the Senate on a 68-28 vote. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., voted against her and, as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, is a key player in shaping how the GOP will handle Sotomayor.

"We must determine if Ms. Sotomayor understands that the proper role of a judge is to act as a neutral umpire of the law, calling balls and strikes fairly without regard to one’s own personal preferences or political views," Sessions said.

Obama has said he hopes Sotomayor can take her place before the justices begin their new term in October. Democrats hold a large majority in the Senate, and barring the unexpected, Sotomayor’s confirmation should be assured.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Links:

Supreme Court of the United States

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Judge tosses BU ‘hacker’ search warrant

A district court judge has ordered Massachusetts and Boston University police to return a BU student’s computers, cell phone, and other belongings, after finding that investigators did not sufficiently show a link between the man and any crime, SecurityFocus reports. The case pits investigators against Riccardo Calixte, a senior in computer science at Boston University. After Calixte’s roommate complained of "domestic issues" and called Calixte a hacker, campus police opened up an investigation into an eMail message allegedly sent by Calixte to a university mailing list. The eMail linked to a fake profile of Calixte’s roommate on a site for gay men. The roommate also accused Calixte of maintaining a cache of more than 200 illegally copied movies, hacking into the university’s grade database, configuring computers so they cannot be scanned for illegal downloads, and jailbreaking cell phones. In an affidavit to support his application for a search warrant, Boston University Police Officer Kevin M. Christopher gave evidence that Calixte might have sent the eMail, citing it as a violation of two computer hacking laws: obtaining computer services by fraud or misrepresentation and unauthorized access to a computer. In his order to return Calixte’s items, the judge noted that, even if Calixte had sent the eMail, doing so would not violate either law and criticized the prosecutors’ attempts to revise their case as an investigation into the allegations that the student hacked into the university’s grade database. The ruling was not a complete victory for Calixte: The judge denied his attorneys’ request that any evidence collected so far be barred from used in future trials…

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Economic woes could reduce technology in K-12 classrooms

A report released by the American Association of School Administrators reveals that many school budgets will be cut during the 2009-10 school year because of reduced funding — and technology is among the key areas expected to be affected, reports the Richmond Distance Learning Examiner. The report "Looking Back, Looking Forward: How the Economic Downturn Continues to Impact School Districts," the fourth in a series of reports, polled 859 school administrators from 48 states in February and March. In spite of additional funding earmarked in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, schools will likely cut budgets and spending because of reduced funding, it found. Seventy-five percent of respondents indicated that their districts were inadequately funded, and 21 percent were using short-term borrowing to meet payroll and accounts payable. School administrators in the survey recognized that technology is a priority, yet budget cuts will force districts to make tough decisions about how much technology stays in the classroom…

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Study: Classroom computers boost face-to-face learning

Computers have been used for years to facilitate learning at a distance. Now, a new European Union research program shows that computers also can enhance collaborative, face-to-face learning and problem solving, reports Science Daily. An EU-funded research initiative called LEAD has shown that students can solve problems, master subject matter, and learn to collaborate more effectively when their face-to-face communication is enhanced by specific software tools. That’s important, according to LEAD coordinator Jerry Andriessen, because individual learning and problem solving alone do not prepare students adequately for the interactive and collaborative settings they’ll encounter later in life. The software tool the LEAD team created is an open-source program called CoFFEE, for Collaborative Face to Face Educational Environment. Typically, students use CoFFEE as part of a structured, face-to-face problem solving challenge. The students are in the same classroom and can talk to each other, but each student also has a computer running the CoFFEE interface. "In the past," says Andriessen, "it would be typical for one student to do most of the work, and for there to be very little interaction and collaboration." CoFFEE, however, boosts cooperative problem solving through a suite of tools that help each student analyze and understand the problem and make sure that every student has the opportunity to contribute to its solution. CoFFEE’s two primary tools for students–a discussion manager and a visualization interface–complement each other by fostering verbal communication and clear visual representation of the problem and its solution…

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Should teachers, kids be digital ‘friends’?

With online social networks and similar tools rocketing in popularity, some teachers have started using these tools to build rapport, update students on classroom activities, and keep an ear to the ground with the youths they teach. But potential pitfalls remain, reports the Arizona Daily Star — including the appearance of impropriety and other ethical issues. And sometimes it can lead to criminal cases. Police last weekend arrested a 36-year-old eighth-grade teacher at Utterback Magnet Middle School, alleging he had a sexual encounter with a student on school property. The mother of a 15-year-old student had told police she found suspicious chats between the teacher and her daughter on the girl’s Facebook page. And on May 22, a 37-year-old math teacher at a suburban Philadelphia high school was accused of having sex with one of her students and sending sexually explicit internet and phone messages to another. Police say the teacher used Facebook to contact the students. The sexual relationship reportedly began with one student after she sent him a "friend" request to be part of her online social network. School officials say it’s hard to know where to draw the line–although there has been some movement to do just that. The Missouri Legislature is debating a proposal to ban elementary-school teachers from having social-networking friend-ships with their students. And the Lamar County School District board in Mississippi recently passed a policy that bans "fraternization via the internet" between staff members and students. It also prohibits text messages to students except for educational purposes…

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AT&T and Indiana University partner on BlackBerry deal

Indiana University has announced that it has entered into an agreement with AT&T, providing graduate students and staff in its Kelley School of Business with discounted BlackBerry smart phones, reports the Richmond Distance Learning Examiner. The program was negotiated by University Information Technology Services and will begin on July 1. Educators at the university will be able to experiment with integrating different forms of distance education with the smart phones, as well as allow students to work with a tool that has become nearly ubiquitous in the business world. The BlackBerry provides internet access, web tools and applications, and information download capabilities…

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Learn about free eBooks that can supplement or replace classroom texts

"E-Books Directory" is an online resource that contains links to freely downloadable eBooks, technical papers, and documents, as well as user-contributed content, articles, reviews, and comments. Launched in 2008 as a free service to students, educators, researchers, and eBook lovers, the directory is a database-driven web site that uses PHP scripting language and the MySQL relational database. As of press time, it listed 1702 eBooks in 391 categories, including children¹s books, history, humanities, literature, science, and mathematics. Under Classic Literature, for example, users will finds links to such iconic texts as Anna Karenina, Beowulf, Don Quixote, Great Expectations, Little Women, and more. The site says it does not support copyright infringement, nor will it link to web sites that trade copyrighted material. http://www.e-booksdirectory.com

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New iPod rules touch off heated debate

A new policy by the University of Missouri School of Journalism requiring incoming students to have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or similar device has touched off a heated debate about the limits and possibilities of technology — as well as corporate influence — in academia.

Gadgets such as the Apple iPhone and the iPod Touch are mainstays on college campuses, largely for their ability to help students escape the pressures of the classroom–although a growing number of institutions also use the devices for academic purposes.

Now the nation’s oldest journalism school is asking students to buy those or similar devices, so students can download classroom lectures or confirm facts on the web while reporting from the scene of a plane crash or town council meeting.

The new rule appears to mark one of the first times an American university is requiring undergraduates to buy such devices themselves.

Skeptics say the school is getting too cozy with Apple Inc., though administrators point out that they earn no financial benefit from the new policy. The university gets a 10-percent discount on Apple computers it buys, but other vendors such as Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. offer the same deal.

"It’s like asking an engineer to buy a calculator," said Brian Brooks, associate dean for undergraduate studies. "We are doing this requirement solely to benefit our students’ learning."

A description about the program on the school’s web site notes that "at least 50 colleges and universities nationwide make use of iPods in their programs." But it’s not clear whether any of those schools make it mandatory–and at the students’ expense. Private institutions such as Duke and Abilene Christian University have given the devices out for free.

Brooks points out that an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the university’s 30,200 undergraduates already own portable music players, with 85 percent of those devices being iPods.

Even so, graduating senior Maureen Scarpelli–an admitted Apple disciple–questions the school’s endorsement of a particular product.

After similar complaints, the school clarified that it is requiring any web-enabled, audio-video player like the iPhone or the iPod Touch, which is like an iPhone without the phone. So portable devices such as a Microsoft Zune or smart phones such as BlackBerrys can be acceptable … just not preferred.

"There are alternatives to the iPod Touch, but none that we consider equally capable," the online program description concludes.

Among the uses envisioned by Brooks and other professors: students listening to lectures while at the gym or walking to class; using wireless internet access to verify information while reporting stories; and watching instructional videos that otherwise would take up valuable classroom time.

Clyde Bentley was one of nine journalism professors who voted against the new policy (with 40 in support) at a recent faculty meeting. His primary concern was saddling students with an additional expense. He also questioned whether students who rely on portable devices to listen to Vampire Weekend or watch The Colbert Report will embrace the journalism school’s intended uses.

"I had a student say that he used his iPod to get away from me," Bentley said, recalling previous attempts to offer podcasts of his lectures.

Brooks pointed out that by requiring portable electronic devices, the university can include those costs in its financial aid packages. And the $229 student price of an iPod Touch is comparable to two or three textbooks, he said.

Jeffrey Cole, director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, calls the new Missouri requirement "not only reasonable but admirable." He likened the debate to discussions several years ago over whether colleges should ask incoming students to buy PCs or laptop computers–by now a largely moot point.

"Schools are usually far behind their students in embracing new technology. And faculty are usually behind the schools," Cole said.

"It really shows how both journalism and education are changing in transformational ways," he added. "The biggest effect the internet will have is not how we play or communicate, but how we learn."

Links:

University of Missouri School of Journalism

Center for the Digital Future

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