University students who play calculus video game score higher on exams

An educational video game initially developed by Texas A&M University visualization students significantly boosts students’ scores in introductory calculus, one of the toughest classes to pass on a university campus.

The calculus video game, Variant: Limits, connects mathematics and gameplay in a 3D adventure in which students stop geomagnetic storms that threaten their planet’s survival by solving a series of increasingly challenging calculus problems. It was born in a collaboration of viz students and an interdisciplinary group of university faculty who work together in the Department of Visualization’s LIVE Lab.

It’s time for innovative teaching in higher ed

Innovative, effective measures to teach introductory calculus are in demand because too many students are failing. In fact, 22-38 percent of university students, depending on their preparation, failed calculus at more than 200 colleges that participated in a Mathematical Association of America study.

Related: Say what? Gaming boosts knowledge by 25 percent

Without successfully completing calculus requirements, they are unable to earn degrees in most science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, as well as many business and architecture disciplines.

“We know students have fun playing Variant: Limits and that playing the game helps them connect more deeply with the class content, but now we have empirical evidence that directly ties gameplay to stronger learning outcomes,” said André Thomas, a visualization professor and CEO of Triseum, a game-based learning company that developed the game.


The 4 main drivers behind higher-ed disruption

Higher-ed leaders must embrace change if they wish to remain relevant.

At EDUCAUSE 2018 last fall, James Phelps, director of enterprise architecture and strategy at the University of Washington and winner of the 2018 EDUCAUSE Community Leadership Award, discussed the four main drivers behind higher-ed disruption:

  1. shifting skills
  2. the digital transformation
  3. employment and income challenges
  4. the higher-ed financial crisis

As Phelps said, these drivers have brought higher education to a critical space in between disruption and transformation. They create a landscape that can give higher-ed leaders a better idea of how higher ed is changing and what institutions might look like post-disruption.

Related: How my university is disrupting higher education

The 4 factors causing higher-ed disruption

Driver 1: Shifting skills

“We have changing relationships on campus and we have to help our staff navigate these changes,” Phelps said. “We have great people, but they need new and different skills now,” he added, citing Gartner research predicting that in 10 years, the IT skills today’s workers will need will be completely different from the skills they possess today.

1. Create a strategic investment fund for reskilling the workforce
2. Build a strategic workforce development center focusing on continuous development and alignment
3. Create a continuous learning and improvement culture among all staff
4. Actively manage human resource debt

Driver 2: The digital transformation

The digital transformation is the change associated with the application of digital technologies to all aspects of human society. It focuses on customer experience design, user-centered design, and hyper-personalization. Those three things are built on data, the Internet of Things, and AI.

“Transformations have three phases, and you have to know where you are,” Phelps said. Those phases are refine, disrupt, and transform, and U.S. higher education is in between disrupt and transform.


5 principles to guide online learning programs

Faculty preparation for teaching online courses varies widely by institution and is far from consistent, according to a new report gauging how online learning programs are managed.

The report, a joint effort of online program manager Learning House and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), follows up on previous research showing that almost 90 percent of surveyed AASCU schools with online programs experienced barriers around faculty acceptance of online learning, along with the increased effort faculty devoted to developing online courses.

Read more: Does your online program hit the right notes?

Research shows that finding and equipping faculty members to teach online courses is one of the biggest concerns AASCU members say they grapple with.

This most recent report presents survey responses from 95 AASCU chief academic officers responding to questions about how institutions recruit and train online faculty.


Mixed reality is preparing students for the collaborative workforce

Is your college looking for a way to improve workforce development? Check out mixed reality.

At EDUCAUSE 2018, educators from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) shared how the university is developing and implementing small- and large-scale immersive augmented reality and mixed reality learning resources with great success.

The projects stem from the university’s Interactive Commons, which explores how cross-departmental teamwork and new technologies can foster innovation and new ways of teaching and learning. So far, they have yielded a fair amount of data, along with increases in student engagement, time savings, and more positive learning experiences overall.

“The workforce is collaborative, and we need to communicate across disciplines–curriculum has to drive those interactions,” said Erin Henninger, executive director of the Interactive Commons at CWRU. “We want to think about what kind of classroom we’re putting our students in in the future–the classrooms we’ve been creating for 100 years may be doing those students a disservice.”

CWRU is already using Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed reality headsets with students, and will deploy 32 HoloLens devices in its new Health Education campus, slated to open in July 2019. They can be used in any number of ways, such as to help medical students explore human anatomy together in a mixed reality environment.

Related: Using workforce data to improve student outcomes

The Microsoft HoloLens gives students a new way of visualizing environments, from cadaver dissection to emergency response simulations and training.

“It gives us new ways to interact,” Henninger said, including virtual cadaver dissection, distance-based guided repair where a student is in one place and an instructor coaches him or her from another, telemedicine, and more.


College of Business unveils classroom of the future

Equipped with a wall of 27 high-definition video screens as well as five high-end cameras, the newest classroom in Colorado State University’s College of Business is designed to connect on-campus and online students in a whole new way.

The College of Business unveiled on March 29 the “Room of the Future,” featuring Mosaic, an innovative technology–powered by–that creates a blended classroom experience, connecting on-campus and online students in real time.

The launch marks a milestone for CSU. The College of Business is the first business school in the nation to provide this type of blended classroom experience, with three learning options:  on-campus, on-demand, and online.

Related: Beyond disruption: The future of higher education

Whether students are online around the globe or in Room 118 in Rockwell Hall–West in Fort Collins, they all can share their perspectives and collaborate on projects and coursework in the classroom.

College of Business Dean Beth Walker unveiled the name of the platform with Victor Sanchez, the CEO and co-founder of who provided a live demonstration of Mosaic.

“We chose the name Mosaic, not only to represent the tiled appearance of these 27 screens, but also our values as a community that welcomes new and varied perspectives,” Walker said. “We are all part of a beautiful Mosaic. We believe what makes us different also makes us great.”

How Mosaic works

Mosaic uses’s video collaboration technology to mirror a live classroom by creating an immersive learning experience for both online and on-campus students.

During lectures, Mosaic enables simultaneous interactions through polls, group discussions and engagement tools for up to 88 remote students and 37 in-classroom students.

With five strategically placed cameras, online students see exactly what is going on in the classroom. The 27 video screens allow the instructor and on-campus students to have face-to-face interactions with online students.

As an instructor, “there is something really different and compelling in having your students in front of you, in ultra-high definition,” said Sanchez, adding that instructors can pick up on nonverbal cues from online students, such as facial expressions, to better meet their needs.

Sanchez said the key to Mosaic is not just its exceptional video quality, but also its low video latency, allowing for real-time interactions between online and on-campus students.


2 actions university leaders can take to impact student wellbeing

The acute wellbeing needs of young people today are at crisis levels, and higher-ed leaders know that college students require additional supports from their schools, parents, and counselors. In fact, The Council for the Advancement of Standards for Higher Education (CAS) has produced the new Cross-Functional Framework for Advancing Health and Well-Being to address the complex issues of health, well-being, flourishing, and thriving of college students in the context of a healthy community. Further, the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) measures the degree to which higher-ed institutions are committed to student success and providing support for students’ overall well-being across a variety of domains, including the cognitive, social, and physical.

Provosts, along with all president’s council members, are required to provide leadership to university accreditations. They have to demonstrate the ability to implement CAS wellbeing standards and improve NSSE results. It is to the benefit of university leaders to prioritize student wellbeing outcomes—e.g., to meet national standards, retain students, and succeed in their mission as educators.

So then, why is higher ed not taking bold action to impact the dire well-being statistics?

Do we really need more data before acting?

Student wellbeing has been a problem for years

“In 2018, researchers who surveyed almost 14,000 first-year college students (in eight countries) found that 35 percent struggled with a mental illness, particularly depression or anxiety,” according to an article in Greater Good Magazine. “Here in the U.S., college students seeking mental health services report that anxiety is their number one concern—and it is on the rise.”

A recent New York Times article states, “Most American teenagers—across demographic groups—see depression and anxiety as major problems among their peers, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. The survey found that 70 percent of teenagers saw mental health as a big issue.”

Related: What is your college doing to help students handle stress?

Clearly, we can agree that there are well-being problems in our society and that we are all struggling with how to impact them. Is the slowness to act not understanding how, or is it a matter of leadership courage? We challenge university leaders to take two actions today!


Inclusive access programs offer tangible results to students and faculty

The exorbitant costs of paying for college sometimes means that other priorities take a backseat. For students already struggling to pay tuition fees, necessities that help them succeed in college, such as textbooks, are often tossed out the window. In fact, one survey revealed that 65 percent of students had foregone buying a textbook because they couldn’t afford it—with 94 percent of those students admitting they were concerned it would hurt their grade in the course.

At hundreds of dollars a textbook, it’s easy to see why students would hope to skimp by on the lecture notes. But without crucial supplementary materials, they’re often setting themselves up for failure. Research by Barnes & Noble College found that 37 percent of students say they don’t feel prepared for the first day of class. Of those, 49 percent report they don’t have time to find course materials before the semester, while 23 percent say they couldn’t afford the materials.

The need for inclusive access programs

As Gen Z begins their college educations, universities are increasingly searching for solutions to lower the costs of course materials. Many meet that challenge with inclusive access models that shift reliance from more expensive print textbooks to digital course materials.

Related: Why do we still have basic textbooks in higher ed?

Where students were previously assigned textbooks to find and purchase on their own, schools can now provide discounted digital course materials to the entire class. Using this model, every student receives first-day-of-class access to their required course materials with the discounted costs included as part of their tuition. Hundreds of colleges have signed onto inclusive access models in recent years. But the question remains: Are inclusive access programs effective?

For many schools that have implemented this model, the answer is yes.

Community College of Baltimore County finds success using inclusive access

Community college students often face higher levels of unmet financial need. At Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), where we work as faculty members, we wanted to improve access for the 63,000 students on our main campus. This meant using an inclusive access model.

CCBC worked with Barnes & Noble College’s First Day program to develop timelines and courses, all while preparing the school’s learning management system (LMS) for an inclusive access program. The college enrolled a total of 646 students in 22 sections of an Intro to Sociology class in the Barnes & Noble College’s First Day inclusive access program, with less than one percent of students opting out of the program.


Reimagining the student onboarding experience through collaboration

As the newly appointed assistant provost for academic operations, I was brought back to Carlow University in Pennsylvania to solve basic problems and reorganize the way we operate. Specifically, I was tasked to look at the student onboarding experience and the student transition from admittance to attendance.

What made me uniquely qualified for the role of assistant provost, which includes overseeing the Student Hub (financial aid, student accounts, and registrar), was my previous experience as Carlow’s University registrar and my additional background in a large-scale student services office at West Virginia University. This afforded me the essential skills required to step into a leadership position and define the most critical needs of the student experience, which would be more challenging to someone without knowledge of Carlow’s culture and history. Even though I had an understanding of what changes had to be made, I knew that in order to make an impactful difference for our students, collaboration with other departments was vital.

Student onboarding is a collaborative process

My first task was to assess the purpose and scope of coordinator of advising position. For years, this position existed to serve, but the question as to whom it served became muddier each semester. What started as an extension of the Student Hub and an advising support for when faculty advisors were unavailable soon became a catch-all for everything advising. The coordinator’s easy accessibility caused students to circumvent their faculty advisors, creating confusion and tension. In addition, this position had no tangible jurisdiction over faculty advisors, and initiatives coming out of this office were often disregarded or not clearly articulated.

Related: How to improve faculty and staff onboarding in higher ed

On top of serving existing students, the coordinator was recruited by Enrollment Management to register new transfer students as there wasn’t a designated person to handle this task. Thus, the reporting structure became an issue given the dual focus of the position.

Redefining the advising position

The question was simple: What do we want or need from the coordinator of advising position? To address this, I convened the provost, deans, vice president of enrollment management, and other select stakeholders to discuss how to better align this position with our goal for a more structured student experience. We considered what improvements were needed and what our new and current students were lacking. From this discovery period, we deduced that the faculty advising model wasn’t broken but needed a defined direction, and that the current position caused some confusion as to how much of a role the coordinator played in the advising relationship.


This technology can help higher ed address students’ mental health

In 2018, the American Psychological Association found that more than one-third of first-year university students in eight countries reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosable mental health disorder.

eCampus News was curious about how universities are addressing students’ mental health, so we spoke with Nancy Zlatkin, Psy.D., a psychologist at Florida International University (FIU). FIU has been using TAO Connect, an online therapy platform, for five years.

Using technology to address students’ mental health

Q: How long has FIU been offering therapy via TAO Connect?

FIU Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has been offering TAO treatment since January 2014.

Q: How many students have taken advantage of the services?

As of September 2018, we’ve had 366 students use the services.

Q: Why did you feel the need to offer this benefit to students?

Our student population consists of both on-campus and online students. Because of this, it can be difficult to find supplemental counseling services that effectively reach every student and can be personalized to their own needs. While CAPS had developed several programs to empower students to take control of their own behavioral health, we were looking for more versatility in how our services were delivered.

Related: 4 student mental health apps to ease stress

Offering TAO to students was aligned with CAPS’ plan to increase parity in services between traditional students and online students. Furthermore, TAO had been shown to be effective for college students presenting to college counseling centers with specific issues. Students are now able to use tools such as anxiety monitoring logs, where they can report episodes of anxiety and apply lessons they’ve learned, as well as engage in videoconferences with their CAPS therapist in between face-to-face sessions.

As TAO developed, it demonstrated versatility by being available through a self-help option as well as integration into course instruction (e.g., Freshman Experience courses). For the students who have high-level motivation and lower-level issues such as mild anxiety, the self-help option lets them work at their own pace, on their own time. Essentially, the platform’s customization has proven to be beneficial for a wide array of behavioral scenarios.

Q: Do you have any metrics about its effectiveness? 

We evaluated TAO’s effectiveness using the Behavioral Health Measure 20, or the BHM-20. This is a 21-item scale-based measure that involves four major sub-scales: global mental health, well-being, life functioning, and symptoms. These can be further broken down into anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, and suicide monitoring. When reviewing BHM-20 results at FIU after implementing TAO, students generally appear to report improvement in mood, anxiety, symptoms, and well-being. The greatest improvements also tend to occur in the first four sessions, emphasizing TAO’s effectiveness in providing information students can immediately apply to their lives.

Q: What advice would you give to other universities that may be thinking of working with TAO Connect (or another provider of online therapy)?

Investing in technology is the first step, but you have to customize it to your own student body to make it effective. Consider ways to involve departments outside of your counseling center to maximize opportunities to benefit students. Universities should be flexible with the ways TAO may be used to make the learning modules available to students through different avenues when appropriate (e.g., CAPS, Freshman Experience courses, athletics, etc.). You should also take time to train clinical staff regarding tele-behavioral practice in order to optimize clinician engagement.


How to use 360-degree video to engage students online and off

In their personal lives, today’s students have traded in reading for watching. Whether getting a makeup tutorial on YouTube or learning ways to crack the code of their favorite video game on Twitch, they use screen time to discover new content and expand their horizons.

In the classroom, educators have the choice to fight this trend, or to embrace it. I understand the apprehension many educators have to increase screen time in the classroom, but ignoring students’ own learning preferences and inclinations is doing them a disservice. Video facilitates retention. As studies have shown, that kind of embodied learning can help students better understand the material, and immersive experiences help with retaining information.

I got a real sense for this while attending a virtual reality (VR) conference in Chicago when I put on an HTC Vive headset and was immediately transported onto a NASCAR race track. In the most complex advertisement I’ve ever seen, I was asked to change the race car’s tire and then hand the driver a Big Mac. From those couple of minutes moving around, waving my arms into the blank air, I got a vivid look at the car as I worked my way around it, and that virtual burger is emblazoned in my mind.

If video technology could have me thinking about McDonald’s this much, I knew it had potential beyond advertising.

Using 360 video to engage online students

When it comes to advanced video techniques, the potential is as wide reaching as one’s imagination: an anatomy professor could use VR to take students inside the human body—The Magic School Bus style. A history teacher could take students to Ancient Rome to sit on a throne themselves.

As an accounting professor, I am limited in my ability to create a world where I can “transport” my students; I deal with facts and figures, not great literature or historical artwork. But when it comes to the issue of engagement, accounting professors and educators that teach remote students, like I do, sure can use more of it.

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

Inspired by the potential of VR but faced with the realities of my own editing potential and the price of VR headsets, I started with a fairly basic, but transformative, video technique: 360-degree video.

360-degree video allows the viewer to pan their view left and right, adding a peripheral vision of sorts to static video by enabling them to get a sense of the complete circumference of the room. This means remote students can listen to a lecture while simultaneously taking in the notes I’m writing on the boards to the left and right; they can see the reactions and questions raised by other students in the room, giving them the sense that they are in the class—rather than just watching it.