Platform helps drive conversation among thousands of MOOC students

A Nebraska–based company is trying to address MOOC retention and interaction with an online platform originally built to help encourage engagement during town hall meetings.

As a fairly nascent method of learning, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are still working through a number of growing pains.

Arguably, two of the larger challenges that educators face when adopting MOOCs are fostering interaction between participants and improving the typically low retention rate, which is usually about 5 percent, according to a report by Educause.

A Nebraska–based company is trying to address both issues with an online platform originally built to help encourage engagement during town hall meetings. The platform, called MindMixer, was used during a recently-concluded Coursera MOOC.

“We’re an engagement platform designed for government, education and health entities so they can scale meaningful conversations online,” said Nick Bowden, MindMixer’s chief engagement officer. “From cities, to the federal government, to school districts, to MOOCs, we get people engaged around a set of topics.”

The platform’s founders, Bowden and Nathan Preheim, created MindMixer when they were urban planners. The pair noticed that very few people showed up to town hall meetings and they wanted to take that process, and atmosphere, and put it online where it was quickly accessible.

They soon realized, Bowden said, that the same kind of engagement issues also plagued other types of communities.

“School districts and universities face the same thing,” he said. “They have trouble engaging parents, students and faculty in a useful and quick way. It’s the same with hospitals and patients. This started with government entities but moved pretty quickly to education.”

See Page 2 for how the platform made the leap into MOOCs.


eXplorance and Desire2Learn Integrate Course Evaluation into LMS

The integration provides Desire2Learn clients with access to course evaluations, surveys, and feedback analytics directly from the learning suite

Montreal, Quebec (PRWEB) June 28, 2013

eXplorance has announced a new partnership with Desire2Learn Incorporated, integrating course evaluations, assessments, surveys and feedback analytics using Desire2Learn’s SDK. This integration allows educational institutions to obtain a high performance interface, minimizing IT involvement and turning the Learning Management System (LMS) into a focal point for an efficient training experience.
In addition to integrating course evaluation information into the Desire2Learn Learning Suite, Blue by eXplorance™ also incorporates data from other key systems, including ERP, CRM and SIS. Blue leverages this data to personalize and shorten questionnaires based on course, instructor and student demographics, resulting in high student response rates. “We are excited to welcome eXplorance as a Select Partner in the Partner Network. With the availability of this sophisticated integration, we expect our clients to see strong course evaluation response rates,” says Jeff McDowell, Desire2Learn’s Vice President of Business Development and Marketing.
Higher response rates are achieved when an organization manages to reach high levels of engagement with all its stakeholders. “eXplorance strives to foster the continuous improvement of quality of education through administrator, student, and faculty engagement,” states eXplorance’s CEO, Samer Saab. “Our clients find that access to Blue evaluations, assessments, surveys and feedback analytics through the Desire2Learn learning suite is instrumental to reach sustainable improvement of their training experience.”
As Blue supports course evaluations anytime throughout the academic term, Desire2Learn clients are able to react quickly to improve the training experience before end of term. Blue also allows for a gradual transition from paper-based to online course evaluations by employing a hybrid approach. Blue is a robust enterprise-class feedback management system with a rapid, automated implementation of thousands of course evaluations. Blue provides equal access to course evaluations to all users, regardless of the physical challenges or computing platform.
Check out eXplorance’s website to learn more about the benefits of the page integration between eXplorance Blue and Desire2Learn learning suite. If you are planning to attend the Desire2Learn Fusion 2013 Conference in Boston, please visit our booth to learn more about the Blue solution.
About eXplorance
eXplorance is a leading provider of enterprise feedback management solutions for the higher education, corporate training and organizational management markets. eXplorance’s solution, Blue, includes modules such as course and instructor evaluations, psychometric and knowledge tests development, 360 reviews and organization-wide surveys. Unlike other solutions, Blue can fully adjust to your organization’s needs, whether by tailoring your survey and report formats, integrating easily with your existing software infrastructure, or by offering access support to Blue from a variety of computing platforms. Blue enables organizations to perfect their services by soliciting and analyzing feedback, issuing reports, and then monitoring the improvement in services.
Founded in 2003 in Montreal, Canada, eXplorance counts many leading institutions as clients including the University of Louisville, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Toronto, the City University of Hong Kong City, the University of Southern Australia and many other organizations such as NASA,, the National Bank of Canada, and Olympus.


Plan for technology costs when saving for college

Textbooks may soon be as outdated as the phrase “Kodak moment.” That’s how Jeff Livingston, a vice president with McGraw-Hill Education, sees it, U.S. News reports. “Kids won’t even know what that word means,” he says. A result of this shift is the need for devices to access instructional materials from a personal computer outside of college computer labs, Livingston says. Parents who are saving for their children’s college education shouldn’t ignore this unavoidable expense just because it wasn’t a necessity during their university days. Experts recommend looking at past trends and current college technology needs as parents take the following steps to develop a savings plan for their child’s future technology expenses.

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Three key developments in educational AV technology

BenQ’s ‘SmartEco’ technology automatically adjusts a projector’s lamp settings based on the ambient lighting and the nature of the content being displayed.

Campus officials must design their technology infrastructure to accommodate a host of different student devices, all running on various operating systems. Now, developers of audio-visual products are responding to this need as well, making it easier for students and instructors to collaborate and share their presentations wirelessly from a wide range of mobile devices.

The “bring your own device” (BYOD) phenomenon has exploded in popularity among K-12 schools, as educators look for cost-effective ways to leverage technology in the classroom.

Developers of audio-visual products are responding to this trend as well, making it easier for students and instructors to collaborate and share their presentations wirelessly from a wide range of mobile devices.

Support for BYOD initiatives was one of the key developments in school AV technology discussed at InfoComm 2013, the world’s largest AV trade show, held in Orlando earlier this month. Here’s more information about this development, as well as two other AV trends worth noting.

AV responds to BYOD

BenQ, Panasonic, Christie, and Vaddio were among the many companies at InfoComm 2013 that have introduced technologies aimed at helping schools and other customers take advantage of BYOD.

BenQ’s QPresenter app, available for both iOS and Android devices, allows students to share their files through a wireless BenQ projector, directly from their handheld devices. And BenQ’s QDraw 3.0 software allows up to 40 smart devices to collaborate on the same presentation by marking up the projected file.


Top NBA draft pick turns up wearing Google Glass

Thursday saw an annual ritual that dedicated sports lovers cherish beyond most. Yes, a bunch of tipsy New Yorkers mercilessly booed NBA commissioner David Stern while he tried to pretend to know the names of draft picks, CNet reports. This year’s draft was an especially dreary affair. In times gone by, you could rely on my comely Golden State Warriors to draft high and pick someone whose name had never been heard then and hasn’t been heard since. This year, even committed sports fans would have been daunted to remember the name of a single player. Perhaps that’s why Indiana University’s Victor Oladipo decided to elevate his Oladapperness to unseen levels by wearing Google Glass.  SB Nation’s Tom Lorenzo tweeted a picture of Oladipo in all his technological glory. The NBA, too, got in on the act. Or perhaps one should say “in on the ad.” Olapdipo seems very image-aware. You might be stunned into covering your eyes with a tarpaulin when I tell you that he didn’t major in comparative literature but in sports communication broadcast.

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Software tracks facial expressions, improves online learning

New software can track facial expressions to assess the emotions of students during interactive online learning activities, PsychCentral reports. Researchers from North Carolina State University say that the ability to view emotions allows educators to predict the effectiveness of online tutoring sessions. Researchers automatically tracked facial expressions related to anxiety, confusion, engagement, and frustration. “This work is part of a larger effort to develop artificial intelligence software to teach students computer science,” said Kristy Boyer, Ph.D., co-author of a paper on the work.

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Pakistani middle school student on education, technology and MOOCs

Khadija Niazi, a 12-year-old Udacity student from Pakistan, has written “Education for All? – A Young Girl’s Proposal and Where MOOCs Fit In,” to discuss the role of technology and MOOCs in combating the world’s education gap problems, according to Udacity’s blog. Khadija believes that when it comes to breaking down barriers to education, “MOOCs can certainly bring a great change. They have changed the lives of many students.” Khadija, an avid MOOC student and a proud Udacian, writes, “There are many students who took Udacity’s CS101 and for the first time in their lives realized they had a penchant for computer programming.” She followed up with Udacity to elaborate, “It is a great course for all ages.”

Keeping the “human” in humanities MOOCs

Michigan State University’s new MOOC will teach students to think critically about learning how to write.

How do you connect 100,000 students all around the world with subject matter usually taught to a couple hundred students in a lecture hall?

It’s a challenge many instructors face when creating a massive open online course (MOOC), even for concrete subjects like math and science. But the challenge may be most prominent when teaching that more elusive and abstract academic discipline called the humanities.

Michigan State University, which has three other MOOCs under its belt, will launch its first humanities course on June 30. The free, non-credit course will be taught by MSU professors Julie Lindquist and Jeff Grabill and will teach participants how to improve their writing skills.

“Our primary motivation for starting this MOOC was to learn something about what it means to learn writing,” said Lindquist, who is the director of first-year writing at MSU. “When you go about your business teaching writers, it’s easy to take for granted what the students need from you, what they can do for each other, how the writing process works for students. This could shake us loose from our assumptions.”

Grabill and Lindquist aren’t the only professors turning to MOOCs to find a fresh way of teaching people how to write. Karen Head at the Georgia Institute of Technology began teaching a first year composition course in late May, and in January, Grabill convened a webinar of professors who are planning their own writing MOOCs for this summer and fall.

Like MOOCs in general, however, the jury is still out as to how effective they can really be.

See Page 2 for how the professors plan on organizing the course. 


Vernier Launches its Fall 2013 Data-Collection Workshop Series for Science Educators


Daylene Long
Vernier Software & Technology

Christine Allman
KEH Communications

Vernier Launches its Fall 2013 Data-Collection Workshop Series for Science Educators

Free 4-hour workshops provide hands-on training for integrating data-collection technology and digital tools into science curricula

BEAVERTON, Oregon, June 27, 2013 – Starting this September, Vernier Software & Technology will offer 38 free workshops to help science educators learn about the various ways to integrate data-collection technology, also called digital tools, into their curriculum, which is called for in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Led by experienced training specialists, each four-hour, hands-on workshop provides seasoned educators the opportunity to hone their data-collection skills while helping teachers new to probeware learn and explore the basics. Each workshop will be conducted using Vernier’s award-winning line of computer and handheld data-collection technology.

During the workshops, participants will learn important skills and strategies for integrating data-collection technology into their physics, chemistry, biology, environmental, Earth and middle school science instruction. In addition to the training, each participating teacher will receive an electronic Workshop Training Manual, which includes ready-to-use lab handouts for a variety of science disciplines. Participants also have the option of earning two (quarter) graduate science credit hours through Portland State University Center for Science Education.

“To meet the Next Generation Science Standards, it is essential that science teachers know how to use digital tools for data collection and analysis,” said David Vernier, co-founder of Vernier and former physics teacher. “Vernier’s fall workshops provide free, hands-on professional development for educators to learn how these technologies can be used in their curriculum to provide students with engaging, scientific learning opportunities.”

Interested educators can select dates from the schedule below.
September Workshop Dates and Locations
September 9: Houston, TX
September 10: Houston, TX
September 11: Corpus Christi, TX
September 12: San Antonio, TX
September 18: San Antonio, TX
September 18: Omaha, NE
September 19: Austin, TX
September 19: Des Moines, IA
September 21: Dallas, TX
September 21: Cedar Rapids, IA
September 23: Dallas, TX
September 23: Minneapolis, MN
September 24: Minneapolis, MN
September 25: Tulsa, OK
September 26: Oklahoma City, OK
September 28: Wichita, KS
September 30: Kansas City, MO

October Workshop Dates and Locations
October 1: Manchester, NH
October 2: St. Louis, MO
October 2: Boston, MA
October 3: Boston, MA
October 3: La Crosse, WI
October 5: Providence, RI
October 5: Madison, WI
October 7: Worcester, MA
October 7: Rockford, IL
October 8: Chicago, IL
October 9: Albany, NY
October 9: Chicago, IL
October 16: Rochester, NY
October 17: Buffalo, NY
October 19: Erie, PA
October 21: Cleveland, OH
October 29: Louisville, KY
October 30: Lexington, KY

November Workshop Dates and Locations
November: 4: Cincinnati, OH
November 5: Dayton, OH
November 7: Indianapolis, IN

For complete details and to register for a Vernier workshop closest to you, visit

About Vernier Software & Technology
Vernier Software & Technology has been a leading innovator of scientific data-collection technology for 32 years. Focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), Vernier is dedicated to developing creative ways to teach and learn using hands-on science. Vernier creates easy-to-use and affordable science interfaces, sensors, and graphing/analysis software. With world-wide distribution to over 130 countries, Vernier products are used by educators and students from elementary school to college. Vernier’s technology-based solutions enhance STEM education, increase learning, build students’ critical thinking skills, and support the science and engineering practices detailed in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Vernier’s business culture is grounded in Earth-friendly policies and practices, and the company provides a family-friendly workplace. For more information, visit
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Education CIOs: Get involved in big data

Thirty years ago I got in a heated argument with the head of the computer center at a college, where I was director of assessment, InformationWeek reports. I was convinced that there were new technologies emerging that could help me be more effective and efficient. I wanted the college to implement a new type of database — a relational database management system (RDBMS) — and provide staff with desktop computers. The computer center’s view was that I should sit down and shut up; they were the experts, and I knew nothing. I decided to work for a master’s degree in computer science and show them. I did my master’s thesis in the new field of RDBMS and left the college to head up a computer center in a small college. I then moved on to bigger and more complex schools, with the last 16 years as CIO at George Mason University. Two ironies: first, managing and paying for the university’s RDBMS became one of my biggest financial worries, and, second, I often found myself fighting mobile computing with some of the same passion as the computer center director had fought the idea of desktop computers.

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