Trends such as student success, competency-based learning were a focus of many announcements from EDUCAUSE 2013 exhibitors


Collaborative learning was another key higher-education trend that EDUCAUSE exhibitors sought to address.

Exhibitors at the 2013 EDUCAUSE conference in Anaheim, Calif., unveiled new ed-tech products that responded to several key trends in higher education, such as helping to ensure student success and facilitating a shift to competency-based learning.

One important trend in recent years has been an increased focus on student success and retention, with many colleges rolling out programs designed to track student performance and deliver more personalized, targeted support to keep students engaged and on a path to graduation.

As a reflection of how significant this trend has become, “leveraging IT for student success” tied for the third biggest priority among campus IT leaders this year, according to the 2013 Campus Computing Project survey. And in response to this trend, a number of EDUCAUSE exhibitors introduced new products (or discussed existing services) designed to help boost student success.

For instance, Oracle announced new “program-based enrollment” features for its PeopleSoft Campus Solutions suite.

The new functionality aims to help colleges and universities improve retention and degree completion by guiding students through the enrollment process in a more structured way, Oracle says—helping them to select the best classes, in the right sequence, to meet their academic goals in as short a time as possible.

During last year’s EDUCAUSE conference, electronic textbook provider CourseSmart introduced CourseSmart Analytics, a feature that measures students’ engagement with digital course materials. At this year’s show, the company shared the results from an independent study suggesting that CourseSmart Analytics is an effective predictor of student success.

Based on a proprietary algorithm that evaluates usage data such as page views, time spent in a digital textbook, and notes taken by a student, the service assimilates this information into an assessment score that rates each student’s engagement with the material.

Reynol Junco, associate professor of library science at Purdue University, studied a pilot program designed to test the service among more than 3,700 students during the spring 2013 term.

“My analyses … show that the CourseSmart Engagement Index is a powerful predictor of student course grades, and that [it] can serve as an effective barometer to help faculty evaluate how students are performing in their courses,” Junco said.

Like CourseSmart, Dell also promoted its focus on “learning insights” that can help boost student success.

Developed in collaboration with Intel, Dell’s Education Data Management (EDM) service is a predictive decision support system that colleges and universities can use to collect and analyze data about students, faculty, alumni, and donors, so they can turn these insights into action, Dell said.

EDM includes a customizable student retention module that uses predictive analytics to monitor and score student progress and generate timely alerts, and Illinois’ Harper College is using the technology as part of its student retention efforts, the company said.

Content provider Cengage Learning said it’s working on a new version of its MindTap product for release next year. MindTap is an online service that lets instructors create a personalized “learning path” for students, and the new version will take this customization even further, Cengage said.

For instance, the problem sets that students might see would vary, depending on who those students are. A premed student would see chemistry questions presented in a context that is relevant to him, while a chemical engineer would see questions based on her need to know the material.

Versions of the product for teaching U.S. history and chemistry are being piloted by a handful of colleges this year, Cengage said.

Other key trends

Collaborative learning was another key higher-education trend that EDUCAUSE exhibitors sought to address.

For instance, Extron showcased its TeamWork 400 system, a complete, pre-configured digital collaboration system for groups of up to four users. The package includes four HDMI “Show Me” cables, a switcher, a system controller, and a cable enclosure. Users connect a “Show Me” cable to their computer or tablet, then press the “Share” button to display their screen to the group.

As soon as the TeamWork system detects a connected source, it automatically turns on the display. The TeamWork 400 system is configured for easy installation with virtually any furniture system, Extron says.

Another trend in higher education today is the move toward “competency-based learning,” in which students receive credit based on what they know, not how long they have been in class. LoudCloud, an intelligent teaching and learning platform powered by “behavioral analytics,” previewed a new solution intended to help colleges with this shift.

With this new solution, students can test out of skills they already have, LoudCloud said. Each student sees a unique dashboard with recommendations for the skills they still need, based on their indicated field of interest—as well as a list of courses that can satisfy these needs. Collin College of Texas is piloting the cloud-based platform, which will be rolled out to schools nationwide early next year.

As more students bring smart phones and tablets to campus, colleges are responding by launching mobile apps to enhance students’ campus experience. According to the 2013 Campus Computing Project survey, four-fifths of colleges and universities have activated mobile apps as of this fall or will do so in the coming year, compared to three-fifths in fall 2012.

At the EDUCAUSE conference, AT&T discussed its mobile app development platform, which is based on open standards and technologies. Using AT&T’s platform, Maryville University in St. Louis has developed a campus app for enrollment that engages with prospective students in a number of ways.

The app had more than 800 downloads in its first month, said Shani Lenore-Jenkins, Maryville’s associate vice president for enrollment. “It’s giving [prospective students] content the way they want it, when they want it,” she added.

Recognizing that students today are more mobile and expect access to key applications on the go, Microsoft announced a new program called Student Advantage, which extends licensing for the company’s Office 365 ProPlus cloud-based offering to students at qualifying institutions free of charge, beginning Dec. 1.

Office 365 ProPlus allows users to install Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel on up to five Windows-based devices: PCs, laptops, phones, or tablets. Users have full access to Office functionality on any of these devices, and their work roams with them, so that when they open a file on any device, they see the current, most up-to-date version.

Microsoft’s offer applies to any college or university that currently licenses Office 365 ProPlus or Office 365 Professional for its faculty and staff, the company said.

The theft of computing devices with confidential data on them is a growing concern for campus technology leaders, the 2013 Campus Computing Project suggests: While attacks on campus networks are still the top IT security threat for colleges and universities, the theft of devices with sensitive information is now the second most common IT security threat they face.

Absolute Software highlighted a service, called Absolute Secured Campus, that can help colleges answer this challenge. The service provides LoJack for Laptops to students through a volume licensing program, allowing stolen laptops to be traced and recovered without tying up the efforts of campus police.

Besides helping to recover stolen devices, LoJack for Laptops can remotely lock devices so a thief can’t log in, and it can remotely delete selected files, passwords, or other sensitive information to help prevent identity theft, Absolute says.

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