It’s game-on at Texas A&M’s LIVE Lab

How can we boost student engagement? What’s more, how can we use a medium that is sure to resonate with students in the modern classroom? These are the questions that got our LIVE Lab team at Texas A&M University not only thinking about innovation, but acting on it.

The LIVE Lab (Learning Interactive Visual Experiences) is a research facility at Texas A&M University College Station that develops interactive learning experiences. Established in the summer of 2014 by a few students and our director, André Thomas, our team set out to incorporate game methodologies with college-level materials, also known as game-based learning. Given Thomas’ background as the former head of graphics at EA Sports and a graphics creator for major motion pictures, he knew these couldn’t just be any games; they had to merge commercial production quality and educational rigor.

Experiential learning
Approached by an art history instructor here at Texas A&M, we tackled our first game-based learning challenge. In just two semesters the instructor had to cover 5,000 years of human art history on a global scale, which is like trying to see Europe in a speed train in a week. Game-based learning presented an ideal way to provide more context via a medium familiar to so many students. The result was the immersive art history game ARTé: Mecenas. In 2015, Thomas licensed the IP of ARTé: Mecenas to game-based learning company Triseum, a spin-off from the LIVE Lab.

Soon we started taking on new projects and more staff to design, research, and test new interactive approaches to highly engaged learning. Today, the LIVE Lab has grown to include five different teams, all critical to a successful game development process and partnership.


Innovators worth watching: 2017 Review

In June of 2017, we began profiling innovative players in the higher education space and analyzing their business models through the lens of Disruption Theory. Using our six questions for identifying disruption, we made predictions about the disruptive potential of these companies.

We would be remiss not to revisit those predictions as these companies evolve, in particular the five companies we profiled in 2017. While an understanding of Disruption Theory will not make a fortune teller out of anyone, it can productively inform policy and business strategy.

The textbook examples of disruptive innovations start with a company serving the needs of non-consumers and overserved customers with a simpler and cheaper version of an existing technology. Cell-Ed enables low-literate adults to acquire basic literacy, language, and workforce skills through “micro-lessons,” using technology designed to work on all cell phones, without requiring internet access.

Since we last checked in on Cell-Ed, they have expanded beyond U.S. borders, extending their services into Chile, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. As we predicted, they are using their technology to move upmarket, automating assessments that place students in the appropriate course given their level of learning, while functionality like nudges and reminders helps keep learners on track.

Our major question about Cell-Ed last year was whether it would adopt an innovative business model that allowed it to be sustainable. Since then, Cell-Ed has more definitively embraced a B2B2C model, especially targeting employers. The result? More scale and fewer marketing costs, allowing Cell-Ed to robustly and cost-effectively refine its offerings. Through its 30 or so partners, Cell-Ed is now helping to train over 14,000 students.

In a surprising turn of events, MissionU recently announced that it is winding down its academic offering, and that CEO Adam Braun will be joining WeWork’s WeGrow team. MissionU was one of the more attention-grabbing alternatives to the traditional college experience, claiming that after one year of a targeted, employment-oriented curriculum, it could help its graduates earn high-paying first jobs. These graduates would then pay back a portion of their income through an income-share agreement (ISA).

Instead, MissionU will finish teaching its inaugural cohorts over the next few months and waive all ISA obligations, discontinuing the program. No detailed explanation has been given for the move.

Our original analysis pointed out that MissionU’s disruptive potential relied on its graduates landing good jobs and honoring their ISA contracts. Without knowing the hiring rate for MissionU grads, or if demand was flagging, we can’t really tell if the model could have worked. A recent analysis points out that MissionU’s coffers were still full, so MissionU likely could have kept operating for a while.


Check out Texas A&M’s new engineering complex

The Texas A&M University College of Engineering has completed a full-scale expansion and modernization of its Zachry Engineering Education Complex in order to create an innovative, high-tech learning environment for undergraduate engineering education.

The unique complex, which is the largest on campus, is part of the College of Engineering’s 25 by 25 initiative to support 25,000 engineering students by 2025 in response to the country’s need for more engineers.

The scale of the new Zachry Building sets it apart from other projects that the university has undertaken. It is a 525,000 square foot building with 30 learning studios, which replace what traditionally have been called classrooms. The architectural design is based on light and glass, and the old row-by-row classrooms have been transformed into a hub-and-spoke design to enable a more interactive and collaborative learning style.

As host to one of the world’s leading engineering programs, the college’s lab environment depends on a high volume of IoT devices, many of which need to connect, but must be segmented securely, so they don’t affect the rest of the network. BLE beacons, combined with a new mobile app called called “EngiNEARME,” provide an innovative mapping system to help students, faculty, and visitors easily navigate within the Zachry complex.

Here’s a look at this innovative building.

The Learning Stairs, in the middle of the building, were a very popular part of the original Zachry building. Students asked the college to enhance the ability to study on them in the new building. Each stair has three power outlets to ease charging, collaboration, and hanging out.

The open lobby area offers numerous places for students to study. There is a Starbucks inside the building, so no one suffers from caffeine withdrawal.

All 38 smart learning studios are configured in the same way, with tables set up for four-person group work. Wireless access is designed to handle multiple connected devices per student. Professors can share content with students; students can share content with each other or their professors. The rooms also contain a videoconferencing system with high-quality direction microphones built into the ceiling. Everything is controlled via an interactive whiteboard at the front of the room.

In this smart design studio, the professor is controlling all of the monitors and video conferencing via the touch screen interactive digital canvas.


Higher Ed Professor – Demystifying Higher Education

This week’s highlighted blog is Higher Ed Professor by Michael Harris, an associate professor who has been teaching and researching higher ed issues for more than 10 years. His blog addresses current issues facing colleges and universities as well as productivity and personal development.

Since 2004, Michael has posted twice a week on everything from planning dynamic lectures to college basketball to tenure’s PR problem. His goal is to improve higher ed leadership and help people make a difference.

Take the time to check out this fascinating blog. There is plenty of provocative and compelling information to keep you busy until next week’s Blogger Mondays featured blog.

[Editor’s Note: eCampus News will be featuring a higher ed blog every Monday. Send your favorites to]


Adaptive learning helps students finish faster

Time and cost are two key barriers standing in the way of college completion, and that’s especially true for working adults going back to school. To eliminate these barriers and help registered nurses make faster progress toward earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, the University of Memphis School of Health Studies is using adaptive learning technology and other practices to accelerate completion—reportedly saving participants more than $100,000 in collective tuition costs in a single year.

“Students shouldn’t get bogged down with paying to learn things they already know,” says Richard Irwin, dean of UofM Global, the university’s online program. “Adaptive learning helps students move through the content at a more rapid pace.”

How adaptive learning changes the game
Through a partnership with West Tennessee Healthcare, UofM Global is helping nurses earn a BSN degree through the university’s fully online “RN-to-BSN” program. The program uses not only adaptive learning but also credit-by-exam and experiential learning to eliminate the need for students to learn material they’ve already mastered.

This competency-based approach to instruction isn’t new, but what makes UofM Global’s approach stand out is the use of adaptive learning technology to help drive it.

UofM Global uses a flexible, content-agnostic adaptive learning platform called Realizeit to provide intelligent pathways to mastery for each individual learner in the RN-to-BSN program.

Instructional designers at the university have broken down each course into discrete skills and concepts, and they have directed the Realizeit platform how to take students through this content to ensure a proper progression of learning. The online system continuously assesses students, and once students demonstrate mastery of a concept, they are accelerated to the next phase of learning automatically—so they don’t have to waste time relearning it.


Innovators worth watching: Lambda School

The software development industry is in a bit of a bind. The number of software developer jobs is expected to grow 24% between 2016 and 2026, and there are currently over a half million job openings. Traditional colleges and universities aren’t pumping out enough computer science graduates to keep up, and even if they were, employers complain that too many of them struggle to actually code.

Coding bootcamps have grown in popularity as a result, aiming to train software developers more pragmatically and prepare them for the hiring process, all in three or four months. However, many employers complain that while bootcamp graduates can code, their theoretical foundation is found wanting.

Lambda School aims to address those concerns. Founded last year, Lambda School has worked with employers to generate a curriculum that is both a deep-dive crash course in software engineering and a practical, streamlined computer science degree program. Complementing this curriculum is an apprenticeship structure that simulates a professional environment.

Lambda School programs last six months for full-time students, and one year for part-time students. All courses are entirely online, live, and competency-based, meaning a student won’t progress to a new week of material without demonstrating mastery of the previous week’s topics. Students pay nothing upfront for these courses, thanks to the use of income share agreements (ISAs).

“Bringing together all these features—zero-down, entirely online—is tricky for colleges and bootcamps,” explained CEO Austen Allred. “They see the benefits but worry about cannibalizing revenue from their traditional programs. It’s the classic innovator’s dilemma. We’ve managed because we had no golden goose to protect.”

Lambda School announced a $4 million funding round in January, has graduated its first two cohorts, with 20 students in each, and hopes to enroll 1,000 students in 2018. But is Lambda School disruptive to providers of traditional computer science bachelor’s degrees? We put them to the test with six questions for identifying disruption.

1. Does it target people whose only alternative is to buy nothing at all (nonconsumers) or who are overserved by existing offerings in the market?

Yes, though selectively. Lambda School appeals to those who don’t want to pay so much for all the bells and whistles of the full, four-year college experience. What they really want is a good job, and soon. Eliminating upfront costs also brings in students with limited capital and/or an aversion to loans. That said, Lambda School currently admits few of its applicants. “It’s not about being exclusive,” clarified Allred. “Given how much we invest in our students, we set a high bar and focus on the students we believe are most likely to be successful in our program.”

2. Is the offering not as good as existing offerings as judged by historical measures of performance?


EDUCAUSE 2018 and beyond

The 2018 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference is October 30 through November 2 in Denver, Colorado, and the edtech showcase promises to be both robust and inspiring. In a recent survey, our members told us they wanted to see more on emerging technologies and EDUCAUSE is thrilled to welcome 47 companies this year―our largest number yet―to Start-Up Alley.

Start-Up Alley is the premier showcase for young companies that use technology in innovative ways to address key issues in higher education. Conference participants can watch these start-ups “pitch” their innovative solutions and business models in front of a panel of judges comprised of business thought leaders and entrepreneurs in the Under the Ed Radar Pitch Competition.

This year’s Exhibit Hall will also sport some fun activities that get attendees more “hands on” with today’s emerging tech. For example, participants can experience the power of real-time analytics by taking part in a basketball competition at the back of the Exhibit Hall (no sneakers required). They’ll see how Google uses data science and predictive analytics based on the data captured while shooting baskets. Not only will they be part of the data-creation process; they’ll also receive performance data for their own analysis.

While the higher education IT community is busy focusing on the latest technologies at EDUCAUSE 2018, it’s also a good time to step back and take in the bigger picture of digital transformation (Dx) and how it will shape our future. Dx is a cultural, workforce, and technological shift that is currently happening on a large scale―and right under our noses. To innovate at scale entails not only a rethinking and restructuring of institutional strategic aims, but the essential partnership of IT in this overall re-articulation.


10 innovative things on our radar at EDUCAUSE 2018

It’s that time again–next week, we’re heading to the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference in Denver.

The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference calls together the best thinking in higher education IT to become even better at what they do and to spark new conversations and ideas.

We’re eager to take advantage of the innovative sessions, presentations, and minds that will surround us at the conference.

EDUCAUSE has made it easy to initiate or continue meaningful conversations through braindates, which are one-on-one or small group conversations that attendees book with other event participants about a specific topic. Learn more here.

In addition to special workshops and events, the breakout session content has been categorized into the various programmatic tracks:

  • Creating a Culture of Data-Informed Decision-Making
  • Evolving Infrastructure and Enterprise IT
  • Exploring Innovation in Teaching and Learning
  • Leading and Partnering Across the Institution
  • Managing and Reducing Information Technology Risk
  • Transforming the Student Experience

Here are some of the things we’re most looking forward to:

1. During her general session, Michele Norris, former NPR host and special correspondent, and founding director of The Race Card Project, will discuss The Race Card Project and how six-word snapshots paint a vivid picture of America’s attitudes and experiences about race during a fascinating moment in American history. “Eavesdropping on America’s Conversation on Race” takes place on Oct. 31 at 8 a.m. in the Bellco Theater.

2. Tech Forward: Enabling Bold Innovations That Connect Education and Work: As institutions look into ways to serve learners over a lifetime, how might technology enable this? Postsecondary education, workforce development, and adult learning are converging to meet a need for unconventional, cross-sector collaborations focused on hiring, training, and upskilling. This session will explore promising innovations that bridge education and work.


OER courses can boost engagement, new study says

Open educational resources (OER) offer a host of benefits to students and faculty, according to a new study of 38 community colleges across 13 states.

More than 60 percent of students in the participating community colleges say they experienced a higher-quality learning experience in an OER course compared to a typical course.

The two-year study, conducted by SRI International and rpk GROUP and released by Achieving the Dream (ATD), is among the first to examine the direct costs to institutions for supporting broad expansion of OER and degree pathways, and the direct cost for implementing OER degrees is roughly $500,000 per institution over two years.

Creating OER courses and degrees is often time-consuming, but instructors in several community colleges said they changed their instruction as a direct result of working with the open materials.

Using OER materials helped the instructors align materials better with learning goals, and instructors who were already using student-centered and hands-on learning strategies said the materials helped them enhance their practices.

Some instructors also saw students engaging more with the materials than with textbooks, possibly because they are more relevant and students can be involved in creating their learning experience.


What will universities be like in the future?

[Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from The Fourth Education Revolution, Sir Anthony Seldon’s latest book, which takes a tantalizing look into the school of the future, what artificial intelligence (AI) will mean for higher ed, and how it will impact our lives in general.]

Universities, for all their diversity across the world, will become still more so over the next 25 years, under the pressures of financial, social, and above all technological change. The ‘Carnegie Classification’ of institutions of higher education, created in 1973, attempts to categorize the different types of universities and colleges in the U.S. All accredited-degree granting universities and colleges across the U.S. are described as follows:

  • Doctorate-granting universities, with a high research focus
  • Masters’ colleges, which focus on Masters’ degrees while still undertaking research
  • Baccalaureate colleges, which see the focus on bachelors’ degrees
  • Associate colleges, whose highest award is the associate degree
  • Special focus institutions, defined as offering degrees in a single field or set of related fields
  • “Tribal colleges,” belonging to the American Indian HE consortium

A more international and forward-looking model of university archetypes have been outlined by Glyn Davis, formerly vice chancellor of the University of Melbourne. The “influencer” university is international in perspective, strongly driven by research and tackling the major issues facing each individual country and the world. The “agile” university is rich in AI and digital technology, and dedicated to applied research as well as giving students a competitive advantage. The “consultant” university is focused on the job market and its purpose is to serve organizational clients who buy expert advice, education, and research/innovation to boost their own performance. Finally, the “community” university is less interested in national and international league tables and has its raison d’etre principally in serving local students and business, and in championing them on national stages.

The Carnegie and Glyn Davis models are useful, especially the latter, but we need to go further to visualize how universities will adapt to the rise of AI and online learning, the fall in residential full-time students living away from home, a rise in part-time and all-age students, and an increase in the number of accelerated degrees and those taking specific modules at university rather than completing a full degree at one university.

We see the market segmenting into six different kinds of institution.

1. Global
This will constitute a league of the top universities across the world, some 100 in number, that compete internationally to attract world class academics and the very ablest researchers. They are heavily interlinked and research-focused, addressing similar global problems. They will appeal to highly able undergraduate and postgraduates who relish independent study and being taught by cutting-edge academics. These will be truly the elite institutions, attracting a disproportionate amount of global research funding and exerting considerable influence in their own countries and internationally. Their graduates will be employed internationally and paid commensurate high salaries. They will have little contact with their local or regional communities.