The future of AI in digital learning is in our daily work, not the classroom

In academia, instruction usually stops at the (real or virtual) classroom door. When students enter the workforce, they’re typically on their own if they have questions about how to apply what they learned in a real-world situation. Certainly, it’s unreasonable to expect instructors to field emails, texts, and calls from former students during the workday, but a lot of learning happens while actually on the job, where people apply the skills learned in a classroom.

Learning by doing

I and many others believe learning works best when it’s driven by the learner’s questions in an interactive and personalized setting. People learn best through doing. And even within the context of online learning, we think the most value comes from using knowledge to complete a real-world task.

Certainly, many topics can be learned by reading a book or watching a video outside of a class. But when you get confused, you may need an interaction to help you understand where your train of thought diverged or to show you a different way of learning you’ve not seen before.

But providing that interaction outside of the classroom when questions arise is no simple task. How can we take that rich content prepared for a course and make it accessible in context in vivo? Great teachers don’t scale. We can’t copy their minds and hand them out to former students to help them use their skills on the job.

AI and real-time learning

This is a perfect application for artificial intelligence (AI), but the solution isn’t to replace teachers. Rather, AI can help facilitate the learning process with the help of subject-matter experts. People often think of AI as a sort of Magic 8 Ball that provides answers to questions. But I firmly believe that “black boxes” don’t belong in education, because it’s hard to learn when we don’t know know how the AI arrived at its answers. Google’s AlphaGo, for example, beat the best Go players in the world, but its moves were bewildering, even to professional players, and the AI can’t explain why it made the plays that it did.

Related: 7 ways AI will shape the future of education and work

When AI looks at and explains things in a more human way, learning is easier. In academia, we can leverage AI to understand student questions in the way humans understand it and then partially automate the process to provide people with answers that have been validated by a human expert. Understanding the meaning of a question is much more difficult than it might seem at first glance. To provide relevant answers, the AI needs to understand not just the literal meaning of the words, but also the context from which the question originates to help disambiguate what’s not understood.


Does your college president have a strong enough social-media presence?

If you’re the president of a minority-serving institutions (MSI) and not using Twitter, you may be missing out on a big opportunity, according to the research. Only 36 percent of MSI presidents use Twitter, compared to 55 percent of all college and university presidents.

Of that MSI group, most don’t post or tweet regularly, meaning they miss chances to connect with current and prospective students, as well as stakeholders and supporters, according to Presidential Engagement of Students at Minority Serving Institutions, a report from the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, which gauges how MSI leaders can use social media to connect with and engage students.

“As the student demographics shifts to a more a technologically savvy (and dependent) student population, presidents must also shift in their engagement of social media,” the authors write. “As presidents aim to prioritize authentic relationships with students and cultivate communities on their campuses, many presidents have used social media to better engage with their students.”

Steps to establish a strong social-media presence

The report includes six recommendations for MSI presidents to establish and sustain a social media presence:

1. Create a social media account. This might be obvious, but it’s important for presidents to create their own account and not send messages via their institution’s official school-wide account. It gives presidents a way to share updates, spread school spirit, and highlight achievement while humanizing the president among the student population.

2. Prioritize your social media presence. Presidents must be consistent in their social media engagement and should make it a priority to post or tweet multiple days each week.

3. Diversify content. Institution presidents will benefit from posting a variety of content to connect with students, the university community, and the larger surrounding community. Examples include student activities, community service, scholarship and job opportunities, and responding to or commenting on student posts.

Related: How to use social media to engage Gen Z in class and beyond

4. Use a social media team. Ideally, a president will use his or her social media accounts as much as possible. But sometimes, busy schedules get in the way. Social media personnel should be available to step in and keep the accounts active.

5. Follow students back. Following students back after they follow their institution’s president is a great and simple way to acknowledge their presence and can show that presidents care about students’ success.

6. Get personal. True, keeping work and personal lives separate is a good idea. But presidents shouldn’t be afraid to share moments of life outside their “presidential” roles.

5 ways to engage students in real time

The report also features recommendations for presidents wanting to further engage students on campuses:

1. Consider creating a regularly-monitored space on the institution website to allow students to make sugestions to the president.

2. Presidents can further engage students by listening–either through one-on-ones with students or by attending student events–to their passions and those causes that are important to them.

3. Few presidents are offering public support to students as these students champion social justice-related activities. Although presidents need to make individual choices about what to support, presidential engagement around issues such as DACA, voting rights, and racial discrimination are essential.

Related: How to use social media to engage your students

4. Engagement of students around tragedy is vital to creating a family-like community–one in which students trust the president and the administration to a greater extent.

5. Presidents should consider being more transparent with students around the role presidents play within the institution, inviting students to shadow them and communicate the experiences to other students.


Here’s a new way to increase online course access for college students

The times are changing when it comes to today’s digital academic landscape. You might not have heard of the Council of Independent Colleges (commonly referred to as the CIC), but it’s an organization that helps smaller liberal arts universities increase visibility and strengthen institutional resources, and they’ve made some exciting announcements in the area of online education.

It’s safe to say that the use of technology in education is making a huge difference in the quality, depth, and accessibility of college education. However, smaller liberal arts universities have a hard time keeping up with larger institutions that have more technological resources at their disposal.

Collaboration helps colleges offer more online courses

Recently, CIC announced a new initiative called the CIC Online Course Sharing Consortium. This initiative is designed to increase online course access for college students and improve on-time graduation rates.

“The initiative increases a college’s capacity to improve retention and student progress,” says Richard Ekman, CIC president. “It ensures that when students need to fill gaps in their record, they can select from courses their faculty has already reviewed and approved for credit and financial aid. Students no longer have to find courses on their own and struggle to manage the transfer of credits from outside institutions. Colleges have greater oversight of the courses in which students enroll and students have assurance that the registrar, the dean, and the financial aid officer will accept their online course credits.”

Technology streamlines the process

The CIC has made this possible through its partnership with College Consortium, an online platform that allows accredited institutions to share online courses to better meet student needs. This platform also allows colleges to share tuition revenues with each another.

Most colleges in the CIC do not have a wide selection of online courses that their students can take advantage of. This partnership lets students enrolled in participating CIC member colleges take online courses from other participating CIC members while counting the course as a home-institution credit. Additionally, it allows students to take courses they could not otherwise access at a time they can take it, while also being able to apply financial aid and count it toward graduation requirements. This is advantageous for students who change majors, add a minor or specialization, or made a course oversight or enrollment mistake at some point in their college career.

Institutions that participate as teaching members can open seats in courses and increase revenue while helping students at other CIC member colleges progress towards graduation. Additionally, institutions have full oversight as to which courses students can participate in.

According to Ekman, the Online Course Sharing Consortium will improve the educational process. “Allowing universities to share online courses increases the quality of education that students receive because the courses are provided with oversight from a student’s college or university. Academic leaders assess academic rigor and select only those courses in the Consortium that meet their standards.

“The non-course-sharing alternative requires a student to find and select a course on his or her own at another institution—often a community college or state institution—for transfer. When this happens, students have no assurance that the transfer course will pass muster at their home institution. They risk wasting time and money and institutions lose control over the quality of courses that students select. The CIC Online Course Sharing Consortium improves the quality of academic options available to students through the guidance and best practices of their college or university.”

In a pilot, over 80 CIC member institutions have participated in the exchange, which has helped more than 1,600 students access courses and generated more than $7 million in additional revenue and student savings.

Through this partnership, the CIC can create a win-win scenario for students and universities. Students have greater access to online courses that fulfill graduation requirements and universities can increase their revenues without having to offer additional courses. Most importantly, it helps students graduate on time, which then allows them to make a more immediate impact in the workforce or other educational pursuits.


4 easy ways to take your educational videos to the next level

Creating engaging and dynamic online content is key to reducing the stubbornly high attrition rates of online courses. I’ve tried various strategies for engaging students in my online courses, and videos have consistently been my best format for getting students contributing to online discussions. Here’s why:

  • Humanization. Students feel they know me more intimately. It humanizes the online learning experience for them and builds rapport.
  • Storytelling. Students love storytelling. I can use videos to tell them stories from my experiences as a practitioner to bring theoretical ideas to life.
  • Personalization. Personalized videos are more relatable for the students. Instead of sharing someone else’s YouTube video, I create my own. I mention students by name and summarize their forum contributions. I do this to create a sense of belonging for my students.

How to improve your educational videos

Here are four tips to consider when creating videos for your students. These are steps that I slowly began to integrate into my videos to make my online course content feel more professional, more engaging, and more personal.

1. Show your face and look into the camera

Sometimes online students go through an entire course without ever seeing their instructor’s face. The lack of human contact for students increases their sense of isolation and contributes to their withdrawal from courses.

To build rapport with my students, I always show my face. I started out using Camtasia to embed my face in the top-right corner of my screencasts. This was a good strategy when I started out because it was simple, required little technical knowledge, and didn’t require me to purchase any new hardware. The one downside was that I was never actually looking directly at the camera. Instead, it looked like a camera was “peeking in” on me reading my lecture slides.

Related: 6 ways video technologies are fundamentally shaping higher education

Now, I use full-screen shots of my face talking directly down the camera to students. The talking-head style I use is akin to the talking head you see on the nightly news. I feel it gives a more professional feel and creates a direct line of address. It is analogous to making eye contact with my students: Looking directly into the lens of the camera shows my students I am paying personal attention to them. It gives videos a professional touch.


Academic advising, “degree maps,” and mentorship are helping students earn STEM degrees

 [Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the AACC 21st Century Center.]

While 81 percent of entering community college students indicate they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, only about 33 percent of community college students actually transfer to a four-year institution within six years, according to the Community College Research Center. Strengthening relationships between two-year and four-year institutions can help increase that rate.

Improving the amount of graduates with STEM degrees

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College (RCCC) and Gaston College in North Carolina are building on a partnership with UNC Charlotte to help students smoothly transfer and earn biomedical degrees. With funding support from the National Institutes of Health, the collaborative Bridges to Baccalaureate Program will focus on exposing students to targeted resources and real-world research experiences.

“This experience will not only help students support themselves financially, but it will also give them a unique relationship with faculty in a lab setting. Students will quickly learn if a biomedical career is for them,” says Carol Scherczinger, dean of arts and sciences at RCCC.

The program will work with a total of 45 students who will earn their associate degrees at Gaston College or RCCC before transferring to UNC Charlotte to complete their bachelor’s of science degrees in the biomedical sciences. Recruitment of students will include a focus on increasing the numbers of students from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Students who enter college with aspirations for biomedical careers sometimes lack the understanding of, and preparation for, the processes of science. Working together, we want to address the gaps so students can succeed,” said Bridges to Baccalaureate Program Director Christine Richardson, who is a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at UNC Charlotte.

The partnership includes three areas of emphasis, following a Guided Pathway to Success model.

First, students will receive intensive academic advising while using “degree maps” to help them chart their academic course. They also will receive individualized mentorship, cohort learning and embedded course tutoring at the community college and university institutions.

Second, students will conduct independent research projects with faculty at the community college and later at UNC Charlotte. Research at UNC Charlotte will include both summer and academic term independent research in a laboratory, conducting cutting-edge biomedical sciences research. These experiences will culminate in poster and oral presentations both on campus and at national scientific meetings as well as opportunities to publish in peer-reviewed journals.

Third, transfer students will be paired with senior student mentors at the university level, attend regional networking events for biomedical professionals, participate in professional development workshops and take courses in bioethics.

The program builds upon a strong existing partnership among the three campuses, which in spring 2018 was awarded funding from the National Science Foundation for the STEM Persistence and Retention via Curricula, Centralization, Cohorts, and Collaboration Project.

The three partners anticipate sharing educational best practices that have been developed or improved during the two projects. The regional project also is expected to contribute to the nationwide conversation around the issue of what helps–or hinders–community college students as they strive for careers in STEM fields, particularly in the life sciences.

Read more about the partnership here.


Is your campus ready for AI and other technology trends?

Have you prepared your campus for augmented reality and artificial intelligence?

A survey from the Center for Digital Education (CDE) recently found that college and university leaders are focusing on transforming academics, securing students and data, improving student services, and modernizing IT. These for core areas, they believe, will establish a solid foundation to support future innovation on campus.

Within those four core areas, higher-ed leaders are focusing on these 10 top priorities to lay the groundwork for future transformation:

1. In-classroom technologies
2. Digital content and curriculum
3. Cybersecurity
4. Online services/portal/mobile
5. Faculty/IT training
6. Budget/cost control
7. IT infrastructure
8. Campus security
9. Personalized online learning environments
10. Recruitment and retention of IT personnel

Related: 2019 promises to be a big year of technology trends


Could on-demand online tutoring be the gateway to personalizing learning for colleges?

A few years ago, the ReWired Group and Bob Moesta, my coauthor on my next book, Choosing College, undertook a project for the tutoring marketplace company, Wyzant.

As players like Byjus, Khan Academy, and others have disrupted the tutoring market, online tutoring companies—which offer access to real, live tutors—have mostly struggled to break out of a crowded market.

The question Wyzant, which began as a platform that typically facilitated face-to-face tutoring sessions, wanted to understand was what “Job to Be Done” were people hiring it to do in their lives—that is, what is the progress people were trying to make that caused them to pay for Wyzant’s services.

In Bob’s words, they initially discovered four discreet “Jobs” (you can listen more about the process Wyzant took on this podcast at the Disruptive Voice):

1. Help me recover from failure. After students failed in something in school, they would hire Wyzant to help them get back on track.

2. Help me ensure my success—and avoid painful failure. Students hired Wyzant before trouble arrived.

3. Help me get the skills I need now to do my job or help me get the skills I need in the future to look good. Employees with this Job were either currently working in a job where they didn’t have the requisite skillset and they wanted to cover up for it, or they were eyeing their future and knew they needed to improve their skillset so they could look good in the eyes of their colleagues.

4. Help me advance in my hobby or passion. People wanted help in a variety of pursuits. Rather than hire a full-time private instructor, an on-demand tutor was good enough.

Related: Best practices for starting a peer-tutoring program

What’s striking about these Jobs is how emotional and, in certain cases, social they are. The tutors weren’t just being hired for the functional reason of helping a student with their academic progress, but with elements far more fundamental to their sense of self and the avoidance of crippling failure.

Following this research, Wyzant focused its efforts on becoming a one-to-one, synchronous online tutoring platform—as opposed to the face-to-face tutoring on which it had focused previously—as it realized its customers were willing to work in any environment to avoid failure.

As Wyzant has continued to grow, they also work directly now with colleges and universities to provide on-demand online tutoring support that helps students ensure their success.

That’s a Job that colleges themselves are increasingly paying attention to.

As Levi Belnap, Wyzant’s vice president of business development, and I argue in a new white paper titled, “Success for Post-Traditional Learners: How to Make Colleges More Student-Ready,” given the increasing proportion of diverse “post-traditional students” who hail from a far wider range of backgrounds, it’s time to not only prepare students to be college ready, but for colleges to also become more “student ready.”