University builds virtual reality CAVE for a new higher ed era

K-16 instructors perennially face the challenge of helping students understand complex processes and relationships, especially those that make sense only after they are explored in more than one frame of reference.

The differences between a partial and total solar eclipse on the Earth, for example, are best understood by visualizing observations not just from the surface of the Earth but also from the position of the Moon. The outcomes of historic battles may be better understood by exploring the relative ground positions of each opposing force. The full metaphysical message being conveyed by the frescoes in a cathedral is better understood with respect to the pieces’ locations relative to each other in the building.

Field trips or physical models can help immerse students in some topics’ different perspectives, but often budgets, time, or modeling details limit these tools’ usefulness. Thus, instructors are investigating Virtual Reality (VR) as a means for bringing students into interactive, immersive contact with their subjects.

At Villanova University my research team in the Center of Excellence in Enterprise Technology is part of this effort to understand VR’s strengths and weaknesses for classroom use.  A brief overview of VR technology will help put our findings in context.

A Brief Overview for Reference

The process of immersing viewers in another frame of reference has a technological pedigree going back at least to the cycloramas of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These 360° paintings of major battles or historic events were installed in circular buildings or rooms with circumferences of 60-100 feet and wall heights of 15-40 feet. An audience seated in the cyclorama would hear a narration of various elements in the painting to help immerse them visually, aurally, and intellectually in the scene.

Developers of devices such as the Sensorama in the 1950’s started a technology lineage from the cyclorama that sought to give individual viewers immersive experiences. Viewers sat in a semi-enclosed booth in front of a stereo viewer with audio speakers on the sides of their enclosures.

Through the 1970’s this lineage produced heavy Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) that were suspended from the ceiling and worn like a diver’s helmet over the head. As the viewer walked around, a stereo display in the device produced the illusion of moving in a virtual space. Modern HMDs now weigh about a pound or less. They fit snugly on the viewer’s head, with a display over each of the viewer’s eyes to give the effect of viewing depth.  In many places VR is being investigated as a classroom tool via HMDs connected to laptops.

During the last half of the 20th century, IMAX and 3D theatre technology developed along another cyclorama lineage that focused on immersive group experiences.

In 1992 another technology called CAVE (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment) was unveiled at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  CAVEs use rear-projected screens to create an enclosure within which a person wearing lightweight 3D glasses sees a virtual world based on stereo projections on the screens. A viewer wears infrared tracking markers that enable the displays to reflect changes in the viewer’s head orientation and body position. Viewers place infrared tracking markers on their hands, allowing them to manipulate virtual objects.

CAVEs can have from one to several screens, depending on the desired degree of enclosure. With a single-panel display viewers always face forward, but if the screen is wide, several viewers can see VR material simultaneously. The figure below shows a typical CAVE layout.

(Next page: VR strides in Villanova’s CAVE)


Stunning: 56 percent of institutions will struggle to meet recruitment targets due to visa, travel restrictions


  • 37 percent of higher education professionals have high levels of job insecurity in their current roles
  • 11 percent stated that international students account for more than one-fifth of total recruitment numbers
  • A further 19 percent said it accounted for more than one –tenth of total student recruitment
  • 20 percent stated they never have vacant seats; 12 percent have less than 2 percent vacant seats; 10 percent less than 5 percent vacant seats and 7 percent stated their institution averages above 11+ percent every year
  • 79 percent stated they did not incorporate website personalization on their institution’s website
  • 61 percent said that web accessibility improvements were a top 3 website priority in 2017

TERMINALFOUR, a digital marketing and web content management platform for higher education, announced the results of its 2017 ‘Global Higher Education Survey’. The results highlight significant concerns among higher education institutions about student recruitment targets due to proposed visa/travel restrictions.

In a survey of 391 higher education professionals from 333 unique higher education institutions, 56 percent stated that travel restrictions will directly impact their institution’s ability to meet recruitment targets.

The survey was carried out among web, marketing, recruitment and leadership professionals in higher education across the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, Australia and South Africa.

The survey also found that 37 percent of higher education professionals have high levels of job insecurity. When asked to rate their personal job security in the context of Government policy, student recruitment challenges and internal restructuring, just 28 percent of respondents stated that they feel highly secure in their current role.

(Next page: Travel Restriction and Recruitment Woes flushed out)


2017 education survey reveals 135 percent increase in remote teaching and learning

Kaltura, a video technology provider, recently published its fourth annual State of Video in Education report, a comprehensive international study that examines the evolving use of video in education. A total of 1,000 respondents undertook the online survey between May and June 2017.

The results reveal a boom in the use of video for remote teaching and learning with 66 percent of respondents stating that their institutions now use these capabilities, up from 28 percent in 2016.

Interestingly, 39 percent of those surveyed state that students studying remotely at their institution are already using video-based solutions to join live classes and lectures, while a further 49 percent are keen to add these capabilities to their offerings. Remote video capabilities are also being used to let presenters who are not based at the institution to teach and lecture to students, with 54 percent of all respondents saying that they are already benefiting from this.

The survey also highlights lecture capture as a major growth area, which may well be due to the growing availability of affordable, ‘one-click’ lecture capture software that runs on any Windows computer.

This year, 59 percent of all respondents say their institutions are using lecture capture tools, up from 33 percent in 2016.  Furthermore, while only 38 percent of institutions surveyed capture more than 25 percent of their classrooms today, 47 percent of respondents are keen to extend this to cover at least half of their classrooms in the foreseeable future, which will revolutionize the learning experience for both campus-based and remote learners.

Other findings of note include:

  • Teaching skills by recording students practicing in class is up from 33 percent last year to 54 percent in 2017, perhaps a reflection of the growing demand for video-based training and playback for courses such as nursing and veterinary science.
  • Flipped classrooms are growing in popularity after the initial hype, with 53 percent now using this approach, up from 45 percent a year ago.
  • Almost half (45 percent) are using mobile apps to let students watch video on the go, with a further 48 percent keen to follow their lead.

“Our fourth study on video in education shows how video technologies are reshaping the world of education, opening up opportunities for students and lecturers to teach and learn remotely in a highly engaged and collaborative way. And according to 39 percent of respondents, students studying remotely at their institution are using video-based solutions to join live classes and lectures, which engenders this strong sense of community,” said Kaltura’s Co-Founder, President & General Manager–Enterprise & Learning, Dr Michal Tsur, in a statement.

“Lecture capture is another strong growth area, fueled by the availability of inexpensive, ‘one-click’ lecture capture software running on Windows PCs. While in the past only lectures in large lectures halls were captured, today it is possible to capture far more classes for students to re-engage with, which aids understanding and retention. Our study shows that 59 percent of institutions are using these tools today and that 38 percent are already capturing more than 25 percent of classrooms, with a further 47 percent intending to follow suit,” added Tsur.

Respondents included educators, instructional designers, IT professionals, digital media professionals, senior administrators and students from around the globe, with 81 percent drawn from higher education and 11 percent from K-12 (primary/secondary) institutions and the remainder from education technology organizations, educational non-profits, and other education-related institutions.

To download a copy of the report, click:

Material from a press release was used in this report.


University creates new leaders in IT thanks to innovative mentorship program

Q&A w/ Tom Borgula, Information Technology Director, Corporate Services at BCBSM:

Q: Tell us about the BCBSM CMU partnership:

Tom Borgula, IT Director: In addition to learning in the classroom, hands-on training can be eye-opening and transformative, which is why we decided to participate in the unique ERPsim program at Central Michigan University (CMU). The program brings together our employees from the IT, Human Resources and Procurement teams with students studying finance, information systems, SAP applications and logistics.

As the program progresses, the students work through activities that show exactly what happens in the industry, all the while being guided by professionals who know the subject matter best. We also make it a point to introduce the students to the multiple avenues that come with an IT career path.

The IT industry is very diverse and it can involve more than coding; we want the students to learn that through this program.

Q: How long has the program existed and how did it come about?

Tom Borgula, IT Director: For the past five years, Blue Cross Enterprise Resource Planning employees have mentored CMU students in the five-month-long ERPsim program. Lately, people all over the world have been keeping their eye on Metro Detroit for many reasons, one of which being the city’s burgeoning IT industry. Blue Cross is one of the top IT companies in the region, so it’s only right that we have a hand in shaping the future leaders of IT and support them as they make their own contributions to the industry in Detroit.

Q: Why do you think the ERPsim program has a major impact on the CMU students?

Tom Borgula, IT Director: The mentoring program culminates with the ERPsim Competition, which puts students’ learning to the test by having them solve real-world business challenges. The competition is more than just a contest–it’s an opportunity for mentors and students alike to showcase what they’ve learned throughout the program.

The best part about the competition is that students also get the opportunity to connect with Blue Cross executives that they may not have interacted with over the past five months. It’s the ERPsim Competition and the presence of Blue Cross leadership over the course of five months that truly makes our mentoring program stand out for the participants.

Q: What other benefits do the students walk away with at the end of the ERPsim program?

Tom Borgula, IT Director: In addition to expanding their industry knowledge and forging meaningful connections with seasoned mentors, some participants in the program walk away with jobs! Over the last three years we’ve hired 11 students directly after the ERPsim Competition. We offer them full-time positions on the floor of the event! We have an IT executive make the offer! All of them are still with the company and thriving in their careers.

Q: How can students at the CMU join the program if they are interested?

Tom Borgula, IT Director: If students are interested in joining the program, they can visit or they can visit the Central Michigan College of Business Administration to learn more.


2 reasons why blockchain tech has big, tangible implications for higher ed

Sure, we’ve all heard of bitcoin and how cryptocurrencies could revolutionize the way we conduct business online. You’ve probably seen the topic buzzing around on LinkedIn feeds or in just about any recent article touting future technology predictions. While many of us may not be making important purchases in bitcoin in the near future, the tech behind bitcoin–called blockchain–has the potential to influence our daily lives in more ways than one might think, including in higher ed.

What Is Blockchain?

You’re not alone if your head starts to spin when you hear the term blockchain. Despite being around for about a decade, many institutions are still struggling to grasp just what blockchain is–and what it can mean to higher education.

At the most basic level, blockchain is a database or digital ledger. The data in the ledger is arranged in batches known as blocks, with each block storing data about a specific transaction. The blocks are linked together using cryptographic validation to form an unbroken and unbreakable chain–hence the name blockchain. As it relates to bitcoin, the blocks are monetary units, and the chain includes information about all past transactions of that monetary unit.

Importantly, the database (i.e., the series of blocks) is duplicated thousands of times across a network of computers, meaning that it has no one central repository. This not only means that the records are truly public, but also that there is no centralized version of the data for a hacker to corrupt. In order to make changes to the ledger, consensus between all members of the group must be obtained, further adding to the system’s security.

If your head is still spinning, just know that blockchain is a public database for storing and sharing data records that creates a new level of trust in digital records and transactions that take place on the internet.

 1. Blockchain for the Future of Credentialing

For higher ed–and even for our professional lives after graduation–blockchain has the potential to drastically impact the future of credentialing.

With today’s technologies, graduates and prospective employers must go through a tedious process to obtain student transcripts or diplomas, and this complexity is compounded when these credentials are spread across multiple institutions. Not only that, but these transcripts can take days or weeks to produce and send, and usually require a small fee be paid to the institution.

Some interesting work has been done around introducing standards to simplify this process with organizations like IMS, PESC and Groningen Declaration Network on digital exchange, but blockchain technologies could greatly simplify this process by creating a common, trusted digital platform for storing academic records for employment purposes and to support better student mobility between universities/country borders.

This could be a key enabler to facilitate student ownership of this data and would allow them to instantly produce secure and comprehensive credentials to any institute or employer requesting them, including information about a student’s performance on standardized tests, degree requirements, extracurricular activities, and other learning activities.

Blockchain could play a major role in Competency-Based Education (CBE) programs and micro-credentialing, which are becoming ever more popular across universities and internal business training programs.

Instead of providing paper certificates that are hard to verify, blockchain could help students to compile a complete digital record of all the training courses they’ve completed and certificates they’ve obtained that would exist in the public domain and be accessible on demand. As both these new forms of training take off in the higher ed and business learning space, blockchain credentialing is uniquely poised to help enable their roll out and acceptance by providing the means through which to track and share the certifications students have earned in various programs.

This reality is in fact closer than you might think, as various companies are currently working on such a system of record. One of the most well-known is called “BlockCert,” which is an open standard created by MIT Media Lab and which the institute hopes will help drive the adoption of blockchain credentialing. MIT not only has begun issuing digital certificates to students in the Media Lab, but envisions that such a system could help to digitally represent our professional lives as well.

For example, imagine the role that LinkedIn or a similar platform could play in the distribution of such content. Beyond verification of university records, LinkedIn could become a platform for sharing verified work history and resumes as well, making the job application process far simpler.

Of course, as such a system would have complete control over our professional representation in the digital space, we must think long and hard about the best ways to create and employ such a system, as well as the regulatory bodies that would need to be put in place to govern its existence.

(Next page: Blockchain for finance and student debt)


5 ways to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to edtech for better outcomes

According to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, all humans have the same fundamental needs (food, clothing and shelter), and these needs must be met before an individual is motivated to look beyond these basic needs. This motivational theory is commonly referred to as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

This concept derives out of the belief that constant betterment can only be achieved when certain needs are mastered. The layers of Maslow’s theory include:

  • Physiological (basic) needs: food, water, warmth, rest
  • Safety needs: security, safety
  • Love needs: intimate relationships, friends
  • Esteem needs: feeling of accomplishment
  • Self-actualization: achieving one’s full potential

To not overcomplicate Maslow’s philosophy, it’s as simple as saying one must satisfy lower level needs before progressing to higher levels. Seems straightforward. It’s impossible to achieve your full potential when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from. Hunger will inevitably win out and become the sole focus and desire.

Applying Maslow’s Theory beyond Human Behavior and Survival

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can serve as an analogy for what is possible with instructionally-designed technology, and why I think the Apple iOS ecosystem helps with moving past the basic needs to enabling the ability to thrive and transform learning. It should come as no surprise that education technology has revolutionized and changed the way teachers teach and students learn.

But, it may be surprising to some that not all technology is created equal, and in many ways, the technology and software you choose, directly applies to the level obtained and the speed in which students, teachers, IT and schools ascend Maslow’s pyramid.

With new innovations, devices continue to go beyond “basic level” education tools. Student-centered application of technology is the gateway to educational transformation.

As institutions look to modernize teaching and personalize learning, a student-centered approach to implementations are a mechanism to turn classrooms into interactive environments and provide individualized learning paths.

But first things first. Before transformation, you must master the basics.

1. Device Deployment = Basic Needs

Device deployment is the first basic need of any school looking to leverage education technology. If schools are unable to procure devices and if IT is unable to get these devices into the hands of students and educators, there is no moving forward.

If device deployment is accomplished, IT must next master device configurations to ensure each device has the right settings needed for each individual. And device deployments and configurations would serve little purpose to IT if they were unable to accurately inventory each device. Taking a deeper dive into your environment to see the number of devices deployed, software on each and any other pertinent information is essential.

Deployment, and all that encompasses, is the lowest layer of the pyramid and the building blocks for any school looking at offering significant quantities of devices to students and teachers.

(Next page: 3 more ways to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to edtech)


New MIT study shows the surprising power of Wikipedia in science

A newly released MIT working paper, featured on Wednesday, September 20th’s Wikimedia Monthly Research Showcase, demonstrates the surprising scientific power of Wikipedia.

Neil C. Thompson, assistant professor of Technological Innovation at the Sloan School at MIT and a colleague, Douglas Hanley from the University of Pittsburgh, studied the power of Wikipedia, the 5th most used website in the world, and found that the website can have a profound impact on scientific literature.

Thompson and his colleagues commissioned graduate students in chemistry to create new Wikipedia articles on scientific topics missing from Wikipedia. These newly-created articles were then randomized with half being added to Wikipedia and half being held back. The articles they uploaded got thousands of views per month, and later investigation revealed that researchers writing in the scientific literature were more likely to use the words from the uploaded articles than the ones held-back.

“Our research shows that scientists are using Wikipedia and that it is influencing how they write about the science that they are doing,” says Thompson. “Wikipedia isn’t just a record of what’s going on in science, it’s actually helping to shape science.”

The authors find that, for a typical article in the field, Wikipedia is influencing one word in every three-hundred. The effect is also stronger for developing counties where scientists may have less access to traditional science journals. “Public sources of scientific information such as Wikipedia,” says Thompson, “are incredibly important for spreading knowledge to people who are not usually part of the conversation.”

“We hope that funding agencies take note,” said Hanley. “This is a very cost-effective way to enhance the dissemination scientific knowledge.”

This study shows that increased provision of information in accessible repositories, such as Wikipedia, is an important way to advance science and make science more inclusive.

YouTube with Wikimedia Monthly Research Showcase was streamed on YouTube, the morning of Wednesday, September 20. (Read the full paper here on SSRN. Science is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence from a Randomized Control Trial.)

Material from a press release was used in this report.


Fascinating: Can college orientation predict a student’s experience?

Students’ college orientation experience plays a significant role in how they perceive their overall higher-ed experience, according to new survey data.

According to the survey, students who had a positive experience with college orientation were 17 percent more likely to report a positive student life experience. Students with a poor orientation experience were 71 percent more likely to report grades of C or lower.

The survey, which explores student life on campus, was conducted by OOHLALA Mobile, a higher-ed company that partners with colleges and universities to develop custom mobile apps to improve engagement and retention.

The impact of college orientation also raises important questions for universities serving part-time students: more than twice as many part-time students (25 percent) did not participate in orientation, compared to full-time students (9.5 percent).

(Next page: Campus officials weigh in on the survey results)


Large university begins incentivizing math education

The University of Alabama has created a new pathway to get the best and brightest minds into secondary mathematics teacher education.

The Alabama State Department of Education recently approved a new UA accelerated master’s program that will allow select undergraduate math and math education majors to complete master’s degree requirements and achieve teacher certification simultaneously.

Program participants would then begin their math education careers at a salary of nearly $6,000 greater than those who begin teaching with a bachelor’s degree.

Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski, coordinator of UA’s secondary math education program, said the 15 percent difference in pay scale and the streamlined pathway will be attractive to undergraduates in the secondary math education program, known as SEMA, and math majors.

“We have SEMA students pursue master’s degrees for the sake of starting at a higher teacher’s salary, and they used to have to take and pay for a full-time load of summer course work,” Zelkowski said.

“But now they can use the AMP (or accelerated master’s program) pathway to graduate courses during their senior year that will count toward both their BS and MA degrees. This makes the pathway doable in two graduate semesters and eliminates the need to have to do coursework in the summer that was a financial burden to students, particularly those from out of state.

“Working across colleges with the mathematics department, in particular with Dr. Jim Gleason and chair, Dr. David Cruz-Uribe, we can identify as many math majors who, when they approach and reach 90 credit hours, they can know that in four additional semesters they can have a potential of finishing two degrees with a teaching license as a secondary alternative to their intended career path with the undergraduate math degree.”

Upon completion of the program, graduates can begin teaching at master’s level pay in any state because the requirements include standards that meet or exceed certification requirements in all states, Zelkowski said.

SEMA’s AMP pathway is UA’s latest effort to incentivize K-12 education at the university level, either through scholarships to take classes or by positioning students for greater earning potential.

Zelkowski is part of a five-year $1.45 million National Science Foundation grant in 2013 that awarded more than 20 two-year, $32,000 scholarships to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, majors and professionals to become middle and high school mathematics and science teachers. He’s part of another NSF grant aimed at getting more secondary math teachers to also add the ability to teach and advocate for computer science.

Zelkowski said the program will hopefully strengthen the University’s in-state recruiting pipelines, but continue to attract top talent from outside of Alabama.

“The No. 1 thing that always comes up for high level math students is teacher pay,” Zelkowski said. “It’s a high-needs field, and this is a major selling point for prospective students at UA.

“I’ve mentioned this proposal to the last three or four sets of parents I’ve met with – the potential of presidential scholars getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in eight semesters – and they’ve said they haven’t heard of anything like that at other universities. That’s a selling point for UA.”

The SEMA UA accelerated master’s program is UA’s 27th.

Baseline requirements for all UA accelerated master’s programs state UA students must have a 3.3 GPA and 90 credit hours to earn an invitation or apply through their departments, though higher standards may exist in each department. Learn more here.

Material from a press release was used in this report.