A technology to improve STEM retention?

Colorado State University (CSU) and the McGraw-Hill Education Learning Science Research Council will partner on a new academic research project designed to use learning analytics and educational data mining to improve student retention in STEM courses.

This new research initiative, announced at SXSWedu, will investigate the use of advanced techniques in learning analytics and educational data mining to reduce the Drop-Fail-Withdraw (DFW) rates in STEM gateway courses.

Unsuccessful course completion in these gateway courses is often associated with significantly lower retention and graduation rates. CSU researchers said they are hopeful the data to come from the partnership will inform other courses and faculty insight.

“Learning analytics is developing quickly as an area of academic research, and we want to use this type of research to solve strategic challenges at the university,” said Patrick Burns, CIO, Colorado State University. “We hope to discover new techniques for solving the persistent challenge of high attrition rates in STEM gateway courses. We expect that the research will also benefit other courses and allow faculty to access data and insights in novel ways for enhancing teaching effectiveness.”

(Next page: How predictive models can serve as early indicators for at-risk students)


Is writing education vital to emerging technology?

In an age of technological advancement, it’s easy to feel obsolete.  I feel confident that education will always be needed; but, occasionally I wonder if writing education has value in a computer-driven world.

Students enter my English classrooms and see the course as a requirement for advancement.  They look at is as one of many “basics” they need until they can study their actual interest.

Katherine Schwab recently wrote an article that not only put my fears at ease, but declared the written word as vital to emerging technology. Schwab profiles a report titled “2017 Designs in Tech” which references writing as among the unicorn skills in design. Paralleling writing with the rare and sought after creature who displays great power dismissed any questions I had about professional relevance. She outlines some critical and practical ways writing is needed when designing user interaction with technology.

Writing as Job Market Differentiator

First, being fluent in writing code and traditional writing is a rarity. Both are acquired skills, and Schwab highlights the report’s author John Maeda’s trouble with finding designers who also know the importance of words. Both are relevant to a user’s experience with technology.

Designer Susan Stuart discusses that designing a user interface is a response to “a complete set of ‘what-if’ scenarios.” This is what writers do. Stuart distinguishes fiction, technical, and screenwriters in particular, but anyone who has written knows that the process is about anticipating questions of your audience and preemptively answering them. The best writing seamlessly puts these together so the audience does not even realize they had a question.

Writing for Great UX

This is similar to the best user experiences with technology.  Paul Woods states this clearly when he says, “we all know a great UI (user interface) is an invisible UI.”  And the best argumentative essay is the one where you don’t even realize you are being convinced until you are, in fact, convinced; the best narratives are the ones you don’t even realize you are being drawn into until you are craving an ending; and the best technical manuals are the ones where you don’t fully realize you are learning a technical skill until you have learned it.

Writing for AI

In addition to the design phase, Schwab highlights the use a mastery of language has in a world being ever-tailored to the masses. As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes ubiquitous, users will be communicating more with each other and with their own products through language.  Being clear and concise has never been more important.

Technology reaches into every sector. As an educator, sometimes I feel like I have left my subject behind just to become an expert in technology. Yet, I don’t even feel like an expert in that. Schwab’s article was uplifting.  It reminded me that transformation does not necessarily mean destruction. My success is based on my ability to put my skills to good use. I define my relevance.

This message should be universally displayed in English classrooms throughout the country.  Students walk in seeing a credit requirement that the world is leaving behind; what they should see is a skill requirement without which they will be left behind.


The dark side of higher ed’s ePortfolios-what really happened

Pre-dating the widespread use of blogs and personal websites, the 1990s era ePortfolio inspired storytelling about lifelong learning and everything that entails: formal schooling, personal reflection, career planning, presentations of evidence to assist in life transitions, and snapshots of abilities and character. This generalized use–the ability to do many things reasonably well–made the ePortfolio a likely candidate for long-term survival.

But this did not happen.

Going to the Dark Side

The ePortfolio became a tool of higher education’s accountability movement as accreditation agencies began to focus on quality institutional improvement. These previously innocuous agencies were quickly dragged into the insurers of quality assurance at best and at worst consumer protection. What used to be routine ten-year spans between accreditation reaffirmations soon became five. Some institutions must run the gauntlet annually to address deficits that invariably have something to do with weaknesses in assessment planning and outcomes tracking.

The EAP Inauspiciously Emerges

So, rather than the ePortfolio evolving into an all-purpose species, it became a specialized one. In only a few years, the ePortfolio morphed into a convenient drop box to collect high value assignments.

It was then adapted further to provide an embedded assessment interface, including scoring analysis and output, targeting institutional assessment and accreditation. It had become something new: The ePortfolio-enabled Assessment Platform (the EAP).

The early ePortfolio was an obvious choice for this evolution. It was already viewed as a personal, web-based publication medium for learners to document their personal change over time. This would make it much easier to sell to stakeholders as a good thing. Many implementers, working very hard and in good faith, thought that the EAP and the ePortfolio would become close cousins and the dream of demonstrating student learning would be realized.

The actual implementation of the EAP had some negative effects.

(Next page: Negative effects of the new ePortfolio; a silver lining?)


University discovers how to bring expensive on-campus resources to online students

In 1949, University of Maryland University College (UMUC) first sent faculty overseas to provide higher education at U.S. military installations.  Fast forward to 2017, and UMUC is the largest online public university in the United States, celebrating our 70th year of serving adult students in Maryland and around the world.

Roughly one-in-seven of all higher education students are enrolled in online coursework.  At UMUC alone, more than 85,000 students attend classes online. Roughly 50 percent of those students are parents and 60 percent are affiliated with the military.

While distance education means something very different than it did back in 1949, one thing has not changed: UMUC is still dedicated to our core value of “Students First,” with courses that include embedded digital resources at no cost to students.

However, our online approach has a unique set of challenges, especially when coursework demands specialized software tools for hands-on learning. How do we provide near-ubiquitous access when students are geographically dispersed, use different types of computer platforms, and don’t have access to campus computer labs?

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), or the creation of a virtual desktop for students that houses key applications without having them installed on their computer, seemed like the solution. DaaS can help universities overcome access challenges by delivering industry-grade software to remote students. It was the solution we were looking for, but after deploying, we learned the current crop of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) did not meet UMUC’s “Students First” philosophy.

In Need of an Academically Sound Solution

First, the VDI system we were using was not scalable (i.e., it was very challenging to balance the expected student demand with performance.). This legacy solution also required students to install software locally, which was a major obstacle to students using shared computers, for example at a library or computer lab.

The legacy solution was also designed on a “per course” structure, where student desktop environments were tied to their current classes. Students using more than one VDI needed separate log-ins—as many as seven—and once they finished the class, students lost access to that computing environment. This last point was especially important for us to solve since this meant students lost access to work and applications at the end of each course.

Our new approach needed to be driven by sound pedagogy and the student experience, rather than technology.  Our students needed a fully-integrated, single-sign-on, one-click, distance classroom experience.  It needed to be accessible by students throughout their academic journey, on any computer type, and through a simple browser.  Most of all, it needed to scale at the program level so students could take their coursework with them throughout their UMUC career.

After several rounds of proposals from all the major players in the market space, we realized that most commercially available solutions on the market were designed for the corporate office and didn’t meet our “Students First” requirements. Here’s how we overcame that challenge.

(Next page: A fresh take on the education Desktop-as-a-Service)


18 fundraising sites for millions in campus donations

Figures like $2 million, $300,000, $10 million, and $900,000, abounded in a Washington Post story that revealed how small liberal arts schools are turning to the relatively new-ish startup concept of fundraising sites for alumni and student program donations—all through Washington D.C.-based crowdfunding website GiveCampus.com.

The success in receiving alumni donations, relates the article, is due to understanding how younger, more tech-savvy alumni like to do things: quickly, online and part of a social group.

“We all live on social media, so getting friendly reminders from your alma mater to give is not only effective, but appreciated,” said Tatum McIsaac in the Post’s article, who graduated from the liberal arts school Holy Cross in 2001 and donated via the GiveCampus campaign. “It’s a lot easier for me to make a quick contribution online than to wait for an envelope to arrive in the mail and write a check. I don’t even know where my checkbook is.”

Students have been crowdfunding for years, even for tuition; now colleges and universities are starting to follow suit, with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in donations. And the timing couldn’t be better: according to the Council for Aid to Education, though overall contributions to colleges and universities rose to a record amount in 2015, most donations were large sums to Ivy League institutions. And though the overall amount rose, alumni participation is on the decline; meaning that while individuals are making larger contributions, less people are contributing.

The crowdfunding strategy, it seems, is critical for higher education. But what are the fundraising sites that boast the most success?

(Next page: Top fundraising sites for higher education)


Want an inclusive student experience? Yes, there’s a campus app for that

Post-secondary institutions today are as diverse as the cities they’re located in. But diversity has its challenges, especially when it comes to keeping students engaged and promoting an inclusive student experience. As college graduation rates are declining, it is more important than ever for higher education institutions to focus on retention strategies. While many major universities talk about improving graduation rates, University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is actually doing something about it.

According to an article in UTSA Today, UTSA received a five-year, $3.25 million Title V collaborative grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2015 to create the PIVOT for Academic Success Program. The program aims to prepare, inspire, validate, orient and transition (PIVOT) students, including increasing the number of first-time, full-time Latino, low socioeconomic and first-generation students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

This investment comes at a critical time as, according to a recent Pew Research study, Latinos still lag behind other ethnicity groups in obtaining four-year degrees. The study revealed that as of 2014, only 15 percent of Latinos ages 25-29 had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 22 percent of African Americans, 41 percent of Caucasians and 63 percent of Asians.

So, how can modern institutions implement strategies that support student engagement, retention and success, especially for low-income and minority students? How can they ensure students have access to the personal resources they need to succeed? And, how can they promote an inclusive student experience that makes every student feel like they belong?

As some students don’t have time to respond or even read email, yet are checking their smartphones 70+ times a day, the answers to these questions may make some institutions re-think their mobile strategy.

While the concept of a campus mobile app is not new, most higher education institutions are simply unaware that an app can do more than just provide information on the day’s dining hall menu.

Using UTSA as a case study, here are three main challenges institutions face connecting with a diverse student body, and how a robust campus mobile app can help promote an inclusive student experience.

Challenge 1: Juggling Multiple Responsibilities

According to a UTSA Center for Research and Policy in Education report, “Latino students often struggle through college because of the multiple worlds they juggle including academia, familial responsibilities and their former communities.” To help students stay on-track, UTSA uses personalized push notifications that alert students when their grades are announced, assignments are posted and when tuition is due. As some lower-income students may not have access to a personal computer at home, it was important for UTSA to enable students to perform critical functions—such as adding and dropping classes, buying books and communicating directly with teachers—within the app.

(Next page: 2 more challenges; 2 more campus app solutions)


Brace yourselves: AI is set to explode in higher ed in the next 4 years

A new report predicts that artificial intelligence (AI) in the U.S. education sector will grow 47.5 percent through 2021.

The report, Artificial Intelligence Market in the U.S. Education Sector 2017-2021, is based on in-depth market analysis with inputs from industry experts.

One of the major trends surrounding AI and education is AI-powered educational games. Because games have the potential to engage students while teaching them challenging education concepts in an engaging manner, vendors are incorporating AI features into games to enhance their interactivity.

Educational games that include adaptive learning features give students frequent and timely suggestions for a guided learning experience.

Machine learning technologies in the AI field are designed in such a manner that they can interact directly with students without any human intervention, according to the report, and such technologies are capable of teaching varied subjects, such as mathematics, languages, physics, law, and medicine.

They are different from traditional computer-aided instruction systems owing to their ability to interpret complex human responses while simultaneously teaching. This system can analyze student learning patterns and they can adjust their content focus and feedback.

(Next page: What the experts say about artificial intelligence)


3 ways new-to-online students can thrive with virtual learning

Digital learning opportunities are widely available and abundant today. From MOOCs to digital study aids to virtual tutoring, there are many ways for students to hone their academic skills while still maintaining flexibility in their schedules. An added bonus? They can often do this from the comfort and convenience of their own computer, smartphone, or other electronic device.

What’s more, virtual experiences are not only becoming more prevalent in the academic realm, but in the professional sphere as well. This can be seen in the increase in remote workforces and online courses/graduate programs.

Students can benefit from the availability of virtual learning experiences, not just in augmenting their current learning experiences, but in helping to prepare them for the real world. The key is in knowing how to use these resources to their advantage. But when the virtual learning concept may seem foreign to some, how can they best approach it?

Here are three ways students can leverage virtual learning experiences:

1. Participate in a MOOC that covers a subject/skill he or she is lacking

MOOCs—also known as “massive open online courses”—are virtual courses open to anyone, anywhere (and usually are free!). MOOCs are a lot like college courses; students will be required to do homework and “attend” lectures if they want to succeed. However, unlike college courses, there is typically no penalty for failing to show up or complete work—but that also means students won’t get the full learning experience out of it!

The more relaxed atmosphere of MOOCs can be both good and bad. For some students, less stringent deadlines and obligations to get work done mean it’s easier to fit a course into a schedule. However, for others, it can make it easy to slack off and not get much work done—which would defeat the purpose of enrolling in a MOOC in the first place.

To use a MOOC beneficially, the student should choose the subject carefully. Students should enroll in a course that they believe could boost skills in, or knowledge of, a subject they’re currently studying or plan to study in the future. This could be directly related to a college major, or not! A science enthusiast, for instance, may wish to sharpen physics or chemistry skills that are crucial to success in labs each week—or, an English enthusiast who may want to teach history one day might choose to learn more about European history. The options can be personalized to individual goals.

(Next page: 2 more ways students can delve into virtual learning)


The 3 biggest Twitter problems for educators—and how to overcome them

Despite clear advantages to advancing digital literacy, institutions often experience considerable roadblocks to implementing digital literacy initiatives. Interestingly, accessibility often isn’t the biggest factor blocking this process—more often than not, it comes down to an educator’s own comfort with social media.

Educators with little to no training on how to integrate digital literacy exercises into the classroom run the risk of compromising their students’ development of valuable soft skills that can produce educational and professional career advantages.

For the past three years, Rutgers Alternate Route has supported new teachers in boosting their digital literacy, by hosting edtech workshops, sharing digital resources on social media, and leading hosted discussions on LinkedIn and Twitter. After surveying 165 teachers part of these workshops, responses indicated that social media is arguably the most challenging digital tool for teachers to guide students in navigating, in large part because many school districts block students from accessing social networks when on school grounds.

Also, while educator feedback on LinkedIn was overwhelmingly positive, feedback on Twitter was contentious. While most teachers appreciated our push for them to engage with both networks, a sizeable minority adamantly disfavored Twitter.

Three key obstacles emerged from their objections, leading Rutgers Alternate Route to address how these problems can be solved, perhaps with some digital literacy know-how.

Twitter Problem #1: Personal Privacy Concerns

“I do not like to have a presence on social media to protect my privacy.”

Many teachers refrain from using social media due to concerns of scrutiny from students, parents or even other educators. They also worry that students will attempt to communicate with them inappropriately. While maintaining distance from students is very important for educators’ professional and personal well-being, teachers with Twitter privacy concerns can still safely and privately reap the professional benefits of social media by following any or all of these steps:

  • Set up a new account: The simplest way for teachers to resolve Twitter privacy concerns and establish professional boundaries is to create a Twitter account separate from their personal account.
  • Set up a Twitter account under a pseudonym: By refraining from using their full name, teachers can post tweets without fear of public scrutiny and reap the benefits of live Twitter-hosted education chats such as #NJEdchat.
  • Change default account settings so that tweets are private: With private tweets, teachers have the ability to accept or deny follower requests from other Twitter users. Only approved accounts will be able to see the teacher’s tweets. All tweets, including those posted with hashtags, will only appear on the feed of approved account followers. While this protects teachers from unwanted scrutiny, it also limits teachers’ ability to fully engage in live Twitter-hosted education chats.

With these tips, fielding social media requests from students doesn’t have to be one more piece of work that teachers have to bring home with them after a long day.  What’s more, educators can apply their newly acquired digital literacy in advising students on how to protect their identity online and avoid unwanted scrutiny.

(Next page: 2 more educator Twitter problems addressed)


Are campus bookstores the key to online and digital learning success?

They still sell t-shirts for proud parents and coffee mugs with catchy slogans, but college bookstores are also going through a renaissance of sorts, using technology-supported measures to become an integral cornerstone of campus life.

It’s what Ed Schlichenmayer, deputy CEO of the National Association of College Stores (NACS), and chief operating officer (COO) of indiCo (a NACS subsidiary), calls a system based on trust equity.

Despite booming online marketplaces for college textbooks–like Amazon, VitalSource and BookFinder.com—“75 percent of course material transactions stay with the college bookstore,” said Schlichenmayer. “And that’s based on the trust equity they’ve built throughout the entire campus community.”

A reinvention’s beginning

According to Schlichenmayer, multiple drivers propelled college bookstores to reimagine how they work with students and faculty to procure needed course materials, including: pressure from online publishing, heavy use of used materials, the surge in rental platforms, and non-traditional wholesale options.

However, one of the major initial motivations to update practices began with the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) suggested guidelines to promote earlier adoption of course materials on campus.

“Five years ago, HEA added a guideline that urged colleges to adopt course materials at an earlier stage,” explained Jenny Febbo, vice president for strategic communications for NACS. “Faculty were asked to find and choose the materials required for their courses months before a student actually began the course. This gives college bookstores more time to find alternative options to new, printed books, as well as help drive down the overall cost for students by giving them the information they need to comparatively shop and consider their campus budgeting.”

And though the guideline was included in the HEA five years ago, “colleges had a two-year implementation window, so we’re really seeing the uptick in these practices within the last three years,” Schlichenmayer noted.

(Next page: How tech-enabled practices build trust equity across campus)