Number 1: Social media has negative impact on academic performance

In the report, social media also includes social technology, like texting.

social-media-performance[Editor’s note: This story is part of our end-of-year countdown, and was the most popular story on the site in 2014. Happy Holidays from eCampus News!]

Perusing Facebook, sending rapid-fire text messages, and tweeting back and forth with friends and celebrities alike might not be the best academic strategy, it turns out.

A new study released by researchers at The Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine shows a link between social media use and poor academic performance. The study wasn’t limited to usage of traditional social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, but instead included popular social technology like texting.

Freshman women spend upwards of 12 hours a day using some form of social media, researchers found. Social networking and watching movies and TV were most negatively associated with academic performance among the study participants.

Jennifer Walsh, lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Emerging Adulthood, wrote that students who spent the most time using social media had “fewer academic behaviors, such as completing homework and attending class, lower academic confidence and more problems affecting their school work, like lack of sleep and substance use.”

There were two media-related activities that were linked to higher grade point averages: listening to music and reading the newspaper.


Online student collaboration turns to 3D, avatars

Wanting to create a collaborative studio experience online, an architecture school has turned to a virtual 3D environment populated by avatars.

avatar-3D-onlineWhen Cheap Trick first belted out “Are you lonely tonight,” it’s safe to say the band didn’t have distance learning in mind. Yet the line accurately sums up the most persistent problem plaguing online education since its inception: a sense of isolation among students.

While sophisticated analytics, webcams, chat tools, and discussion forums have gone a long way toward resolving the issue, the online experience is still not optimal for disciplines that rely heavily on collaboration. Programs in design, healthcare, and executive business management, for example, all utilize approaches that place tremendous emphasis on teamwork.

In an effort to address this need, the Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at Penn State decided to build a major component of its new Master of Professional Studies degree in Geodesign around an innovative 3D virtual studio populated by avatars.

“The first half of the degree is more traditional online delivery of the courses—community chat rooms and all the different ways of connecting with people,” explained Kelleann Foster, the school’s director. “For the second half, though, we wanted to offer actual studio courses in a studio setting, giving students a chance to interact in a way that would mimic—and hopefully enhance—what they would experience in a traditional design studio.”

To help deliver this experience, the school selected AvayaLive Engage (formerly web.alive), a cloud-based virtual environment that requires participants to download only a browser plug-in. Students and faculty—each represented by a customizable avatar—move through the space using the same commands typically used in gaming.

“We looked at a lot of different approaches,” recalled Foster. “We decided that this avatar-based environment—not gaming but professional avatars—provided a lot of advantages. One of the clearest advantages is that you feel as if you’re meeting in a space. You can tell someone, ‘I like the idea that’s on the wall behind you,’ and she knows to turn her avatar around. It allows for interaction in a way that we couldn’t find in another online avenue.”

(Next page: How to use the avatar-based approach effectively and painlessly)


Number 2: Top 10 Big Data graduate programs

Here’s a rundown of the 10 best graduate schools for Big Data, as ranked by

university-graduate-top[Editor’s note: This story is part of our end-of-year countdown, and was the 2nd most popular story on the site in 2014. Keep checking back every day as we build to our top story of 2014! Happy Holidays from eCampus News!]

If your favorite school did not make this list, please tell us why you think it should by commenting on this article, connecting with us on Twitter @ecampusnews.

1) Graduate School of Business, Bentley UniversityWaltham: “Offers a grounding in strategic marketing and training in making marketing decisions based on quantitative analysis. Program enables students to make informed marketing decisions based on relevant data and to demonstrate the financial impact of those decisions. You’ll be able to analyze large amounts of information to develop customer profiles, determine target markets and segment the customer base.”

2) Heinz College (Public Policy & Information Systems), Carnegie Mellon University: “Blended business-technology program designed to foster better planning, management and technical abilities. The concentration in Business Intelligence and Data Analytics is designed for cross-training in business process analysis, predictive modeling, GIS mapping, analytical reporting, segmentation analysis and data visualization.

Students gain hands-on experience through coursework and through applied research experiences at Heinz College’s iLab. You’ll work with real-world data sets describing behaviors of people using mobile devices, social and digital media environments, smart transportation and health care services.”

3) The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, Columbia University: “The Computer Science department offers masters concentrations in eight disciplines: Computational Biology, Computer Security, Foundations of Computer Science, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Network Systems, Software Systems and Vision and Graphics. The Machine Learning concentration covers techniques and applications in areas such as bioinformatics, fraud detection, intelligent systems, perception, finance, and information retrieval.

The School of Engineering is the home of the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering, which will engage 300 masters students and 150 doctoral students in its education and research programs focusing on problems relating to big data.”


Number 3: 5 technology trends poised to rock higher education

From the hottest tech degree to a tool for everyone, these trends are changing higher-ed in 2014-15

trends-higher-education[Editor’s note: This story is part of our end-of-year countdown, and was the 3rd most popular story on the site in 2014. Keep checking back every day as we build to our top story of 2014! Happy Holidays from eCampus News!]

Trends like “devices,” “MOOCs,” and “Twitter,” are making the rounds in higher education, but what do these trends means for admin and students, and how are they affecting classroom practice and IT capabilities?

In this 2014 higher education trends report, we’ve talked with some of the country’s most tech-savvy professors to discuss the finer points of these broad issues.

For example, if devices are popular among students, which ones are most popular, and why does this matter? And if MOOCs were all the rage in 2013, what’s the new non-traditional mode of learning this year, and is it different?

From information about the hottest degree offered in 2014 to the development of WiFi support, you’ll learn more about the subtle nuances of some of this year’s—and 2015’s—trends poised to rock higher education.

Are there trends you think we missed, or perhaps trends you see developing at your institution? Be sure to leave your insight in the comment section below.

(Next page: Devices and IT)


Can GPS help students graduate on time?

Implementing Guided Pathways to Success (GPS) could be key in helping more students graduate on time and, thus, save money

network-pathways-educationAccording to a new report called The Four-Year Myth released by Complete College America, a large majority of full-time American college students do not graduate on time, leading to a staggering spike of nearly 70 percent in debt in the next two years.

However, even though only 50 out of more than 580 public four-year institutions in America currently report on-time graduation rates above 50 percent, Complete College America offers a potential solution.

Specifically, they advise a restructuring of higher education that would focus on the implementation of Guided Pathways to Success, or GPS. Essentially, Guided Pathways to Success aims to help students determine the most direct route to graduating.

Starting out, GPS takes individual majors and organizes them by semester to help students map out the specific courses they need to take to allow them to sequentially, and steadily, progress towards graduating on time.

“Student loan debt has for the first time topped one trillion dollars – more than credit card and auto loan debt combined,” said Complete College America President Stan Jones. “Our Alliance of States is committed to shining a light on on-time graduation rates and pursuing reforms that increase college completion and shorten the time to degree. We know that the best strategy to make college more affordable is to ensure many more students graduate and graduate on time.

(Next Page: GPS, the “meta major,” and states that are using it)


Number 4: 5 must-watch higher education TED talks

The future of higher ed and the role of technology are highlights of these insightful TED talks

TED-talks-education[Editor’s note: This story is part of our end-of-year countdown, and was the 4th most popular story on the site in 2014. Keep checking back every day as we build to our top story of 2014! Happy Holidays from eCampus News!]

By now, most internet junkies know about the incredible talks given through TED (Technology, Education, and Design), but outside of education talks given by Bill Gates and the ever-viral talk by Liz Coleman, what are some of the best, and potentially overlooked, discussions on higher education and technology?

Recording and posting various talks on different topics, given by experts in different fields, TED began in 1984, but has lately risen to new popularity with a worldwide following.

However, the popularity of TED talks has grown to the point where many cities, and even colleges and universities, host their own TED education talks, often revealing deeper, more specific discussions on relevant topics in higher education, and especially online learning.

In this article, you’ll find five of the best TED talks, given within the last couple of years, on topics that range from whether or not MOOCs are still relevant to the capabilities of assistive technologies, and from self-organizing curriculum to designing the university of the future.

Know of any great TED talks on higher education and/or technology? Be sure to leave your comments in the section provided below, email me at, or find me @eSN_Meris on Twitter.

(Next page: 5 of the best TED talks)


Number 5: College presidents predict 4 new institutional models for higher-ed

Presidents say these new models could be the future of all colleges and universities in the next decade

model-institution-future[Editor’s note: This story is part of our end-of-year countdown, and was the 5th most popular story on the site in 2014. Keep checking back every day as we build to our top story of 2014! Happy Holidays from eCampus News!]

A new think-tank-esque collection of leading college and university presidents last year came together to discuss the trends and disruptions shaping higher education thanks to new technologies and the evolving global economy. Outside of just naming trends, they also predicted four new models of higher-ed that may exist in the next 10 years.

The brainstorming made formal can be found in a new series of papers called the Presidential Innovation Lab (PIL) White Paper Series, funded as part of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and hosted by the American Council on Education (ACE).

14 chief executive officers from a diverse group of institutions participated in two separate sessions last year (2013)—institutions such as Northeastern University, MIT, Western Governors University, etc.—with the goal of engaging in a “robust and wide-ranging conversation about the various drivers of change and potential reactions to those drivers.”

“These are neither [absolutes] nor recommendations,” explains Cathy A. Sandeen, vice president for education attainment and Innovation at ACE, and editor of the last series of papers, “Signals and Shifts in Postsecondary Landscape,” “they are offered as food for thought—the context for potential future thinking and future planning.”

According to the paper, new technologies are challenging established models of knowledge delivery and pathways to degrees, as well as current assessment and certification systems.

“This ecosystem holds the promise of providing previously unimaginable access to learning resources to a wider-than-ever global population,” noted Sandeen, “[but] at the same time, it is challenging some of the business and pedagogical models of existing institutions. In this environment, few existing institutions have the luxury of remaining completely unchanged. All of today’s colleges and universities are engaged, to one degree or another, in rethinking the assumptions, structures, and principles that have guided them so far.”

(Next page: 4 new institutional models)


Why campus IT systems are moving to human-centered design

A California school dramatically improved its online interaction with students by hiding its back-end systems behind an elegant user interface that integrates them all.

human-centered-systemWhen students have negative interactions with a school’s online systems, it hurts the brand and the bottom line—problems that are all too common in higher education. Luckily, there’s a relatively painless design fix.

Steve Jobs built a corporate empire around the concept that tech products should be elegant and easy to use. Unfortunately, higher education didn’t get the memo. Indeed, many university systems—from payment tools to registration and websites—often appear to be the work of vengeful bureaucrats, with more focus spent on the needs of the technology than of the students and staff who must use them.

The problem is most acute at large state systems, which often favor comprehensive solutions despite having incredibly diverse programs and student needs. But when students—and prospective students—have negative interactions with a school’s online systems, it not only hurts the brand but the bottom line as well.

The good news is that schools can often fix these issues without having to throw out their legacy systems and start again.

That’s what the Continuing Education (CE) division of California State University, East Bay, discovered when it embarked on an ambitious program to overhaul the user interface of its existing systems. The problem wasn’t the systems per se—it was the way students were forced to interact with them.

“We’re kind of big bureaucratic institutions and we focus so much on process that we have a tough time thinking that we have customers,” explained Dan Bellone, marketing director for CSUEB’s University Extension. “There’s a lot of competition out there. If you’re not customer-centered and not serving the needs of your prospective audience, you ‘re in trouble.”

To help CE recapture its customer focus, Bellone turned to Story+Structure, a Boston-based design and technology firm that specializes in what its founder, Chokdee Rutirasiri, calls “human-centered design.”

“Often folks focus mainly on the technology,” said Bellone of why Story+Structure’s approach appealed to him. “Instead, we focused on what type of experience we wanted to offer our clientele. Then we made the technology fit around that.”

A crisis in the school’s registration system served as the catalyst for change. While Bellone didn’t believe it at the time, it may have been the best thing that could have happened because it forced the division to act.

The crisis was precipitated when CSUEB decided to move all CE student data into PeopleSoft, which already handles CSU’s traditional student programs across its 23 campuses. “It makes sense to have one system of record across the whole campus supported by the IT department,” acknowledged Bellone. “But it created this really big issue for us around the registration process. When we moved into PeopleSoft, the system had been set up for traditional students, and it didn’t really make sense for our students.” It’s a problem, Bellone noted, faced by CE and Extension departments across the CSU system and probably many other institutional users of PeopleSoft.

(Next page: Students in crisis and design woes)