Monthly Archives: February 2012

Navigating the Learning Landscape: How an Educational Positioning System Brings the Cloud Down to Earth

by Hap Aziz

The Educational Positioning System (EPS) continues to gather steam and garner interest. Recently I attended the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2012 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, where I co-presented the session, “The Educational Positioning System: Guiding Learners Along Their Academic Path.” At that session, we brainstormed ways in which a potential EPS infrastructure would be leveraged to provide learners with greater control over the academic journey while also providing ways to control and distribute their own complete learning portfolio. At the same meeting, the IMS Global Consortium made a major announcement regarding the EPS, and you can read more about it here.

On Friday, March 16th of this year, I will have the privilege of presenting at the Fashion Institute of Technology EduTech Day SUNY-Wide Conference “Teaching Learning and Sharing in the Cloud,” again on the topic of the EPS. My presentation is titled, ” Navigating the Learning Landscape: How an Educational Positioning System Brings the Cloud Down to Earth,” and the session description will no doubt grab the attendees:

After all my years of schooling, all I have to show is this diploma and some transcripts?” Unfortunately, this is a common sentiment among students that have graduated from college. Many students question themselves regarding what tangible artifacts they have to show for their years of time spent in the classroom, since as far back as preschool. The challenge in higher education is that institutions own any Learning Management Systems that may be in place. As a result, the institutions also own the “data” generated by students, and there is no easy way for students to take that data along their life journeys, let alone access that data for more robust reporting of what they have accomplished. With the development of cloud computing, that model of institutional ownership has become outdated, and data can belong to the students. This new paradigm of accessibility is the foundation for the concept of the Educational Positioning System (EPS) which will allow students to measure and track their own progress—not only through any particular institution, but ultimately from the moment they participate in any type of formal learning activity (as far back as preschool), across all educational environments they attend throughout their lifelong learning experiences. Join Hap Aziz in this session as he explains the concept of the EPS and discusses the implications and promise for future students.

For those of you that are able, I would love to see you in attendance in support of moving the EPS initiative forward. After the conference, I will post my presentation slides here on the blog. Until then, I will leave you with this diagram that gives a (very) high-level overview of the EPS ecosystem.

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Filed under announcement, colleges and universities, education, education technology, Educational Positioning System, EDUCAUSE, EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, future technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, technology

Teaching With or Without Technology?

by Hap Aziz

Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education online ran an article titled, “A Tech-Happy Professor Reboots After Hearing His Teaching Advice Isn’t Working,” a tale of two professors with two seemingly widely divergent instructional methods for connecting with their students. Michael Wesch, associate professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, is the “tech-happy” professor, utilizing all manner of technology tools from Twitter to YouTube videos to collaborative Google Docs in the active process of engaging his students. The article begins by describing Mr. Wesch’s teaching-with-technology evangelism, and how some encounters with other instructors that have tried his methods unsuccessfully set him on a path of rethinking those methods.

Enter Christopher Sorensen, who also teaches at Kansas State University as a professor of physics. Mr. Sorensen applies a decidedly low-tech approach in his classroom interaction, avoiding tools such as clickers and even PowerPoint–which he feels would get in the way of his teaching. From the article:

“Exactly how he connects with a roomful of students is unclear to him, but he senses that it happens. ‘I walk into the classroom, and I get into a fifth gear, you might say. My voice goes up and down. It’s almost like being an actor. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been an actor or anything.'”

Elsewhere in the article it is mentioned that Mr. Sorensen has seen research that indicates students retain perhaps 20 percent of the material they are exposed to through the lecture format, and that he is still a strong proponent for lecturing as a method of classroom engagement. Of course, I’m curious as to what his thoughts are on that research, but there was nothing in the article to give an indication. This point raises another question that was not answered (or asked) regarding both professors: what are their students’ outcomes? It’s difficult to assess the effectiveness of either approach without some data (and while Mr. Sorensen was shown research regarding his method of engagement, there was no information regarding his particular case).

The question of presentation style in the classroom does not have a one-size-fits-all answer, and much depends on the level of comfort an instructor has with the particular methodology he or she utilizes. Mr. Wesch encountered other instructors that tried incorporating some of his techniques only to find that the results were not as expected (or desired). That isn’t necessarily surprising, given that the other instructors may have been unfamiliar or uncomfortable with making the approach actually meaningful for their students. On the flip side, were there any instructors that used Mr. Wesch’s techniques to great success? The article does not state so (although it does point out that Mr. Wesch has rethought at least a portion of his message).

This article reminds me of an anecdote I like to share when I make presentations regarding the role of technology in offering solutions to new challenges: the story of NASA and the Space Pen. In the 1960s, when NASA sent our astronauts into space with the intent of conducting experiments, there were no devices like tablets or laptops, so the way they recorded the experimental results was through pen and paper. However, pens did not function well in the low-pressure, micro-gravity environment within the space capsules. So NASA spent several years and millions of dollars developing the Space Pen; a gas-pressurized writing instrument that can write in zero gravity, upside down, or even under water.

The Soviets, on the other hand, sent their cosmonauts up with pencils.

The point being that the proper technology is the one that works, and often there are “low-tech” solutions that will fit the bill just fine, while certainly in other cases, more technologically complex solutions might be required. What happens in the teaching and learning environment is dependent upon many factors, including students and their learning styles, instructors and their level of comfort with different tools, and the resources and support available to facilitate learner success. And if we’re going to discuss the use (or non-use) of technology in the classroom, we really need to include student outcomes as an essential part of the conversation. If the outcomes aren’t satisfactory by reasonable criteria, then whatever we are doing needs to be carefully reexamined.

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Filed under accountability, colleges and universities, education, education technology, effective practices, face-to-face instruction, Hap Aziz, higher education, learning outcomes, technology

Innovative Online Education: Bringing the College to the Student when the Student Can’t Come to the College

by Lauren Gosnell

Finding new, innovative ways to further online education allows colleges and universities to reach out to students who may have thought obtaining a college degree impossible. Large demographic groups in this country are underrepresented at universities, not because they don’t have the ability, but because other life factors prevent them from being able to attend college the way a traditional student might. Online programs have the ability to become more specialized and appeal to those groups who are currently not obtaining degrees. Making groups such as high school students, women and minorities, single mothers, prisoners, and Spanish speakers more aware of online education programs could open new possibilities for both these potential students and the universities.

A growing problem in many areas such as East Valley School District in Washington is the increased rate of students dropping out of high school. If more students are not graduating high school, colleges and universities can hardly expect their graduation rates to increase. Many of these students do not drop out because they can’t handle the curriculum, but for a variety of other reasons such as needing to work, being bullied, or just feeling that sitting in a classroom all day isn’t for them. East Valley School District has answered this problem by making online classes available to high school students so that they may obtain their degrees from home on their own time.  This program is free for students and they are even provided with laptops so that the financial challenges of online learning will not be a hindrance. Since being implemented, this program has helped hundreds of students to graduate who otherwise would have dropped out.

Introducing students to online learning early on makes sense in a growing technological world.  Online education is becoming more popular, and familiarizing high school students with it on some level could better prepare them for college and make them more comfortable with this mode of learning. Some colleges such as Brown University, University of Pennsylvania, Oregon State University, and California State University-Dominguez Hills offer online classes for credit to high school students to introduce them to online learning, give them a head start on obtaining their degrees, and better prepare them for the rigors of college. All of these advantages available through online learning make these students more likely to graduate from college.

A website called MentorNet, discussed by Laura Newberry, seeks to help women and minorities looking to enter career fields in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; fields disproportionately low for these groups. While this website is geared towards these groups, it is available to all students. Universities previously were required to pay $5,000 per year for students to utilize this site, but it is now being offered free to anyone with a university email address. These interactions take place completely online and help students with networking, dealing with work place discrimination they might face, and any topics not covered by college curriculum for their chosen field. While many of the coaches are white males, they are given training to be sympathetic to the plights of women and minorities. Over 100 schools currently participate in this program and 95% of students graduate. Online learning should not only be restricted to the academic experience, but it can also be used to help students prepare for life after earning their degree.

In Child-Friendly College Programs for Parents, Katy Hopkins discusses ways for people, mostly single mothers, to attend college. One excellent program is provided by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This blended degree program serves as a compromise for students who crave the college experience, but who can’t spend too much time away from their kids and jobs.  This allows single mothers to complete their degrees entirely online if they wish or partially online and in the classroom if their schedules allow. “You can do it while the kids are asleep, while you’re at the playground with the kids—at any point in time,” says Ingrid Bracey, the program’s interim director. “It’s at your convenience.” This online program is available to anyone, but by marketing it especially to single mothers, they are reaching a group who may have never considered online learning as an answer to their demanding schedule and opens new doors to these women and their children.

The number of people incarcerated in this country continues to rise. A 2003 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on Education and Correctional Populations shows that 68% of inmates have not completed high school, but that 26% had completed their GED while incarcerated. This shows a population who could be motivated to better themselves through furthering their education. Utah State University recognized that around 97% of inmates will be released at some point in their lives and will be unprepared for the world facing them. This university was one of the few to offer an online education program to inmates. These programs are rare in general, but because so many prisons restrict prisoners’ computer access, it does take effort on the university’s part to implement a program. Utah State University unfortunately had to cut this program in 2007 due to budgetary constraints, but hopefully more universities will attempt to reach out to this population in the future. The Education and Correctional Populations report also found that prisoners who earn a college degree are less likely to return to prison and are more likely to find and keep a job. By offering online learning to prisoners we could curb the prison recidivism rate and decrease the number of ex-convicts who stay dependent on the state after their release.

The International Hispanic Online University offers a full range of online courses, using Spanish as the primary language of instruction. As more and more students begin taking online classes it is becoming more important for institutions to set their specific programs apart, and this one effectively does so by reaching out to the increasing Spanish-speaking population as well as those who hope to use Spanish in their career field. According to reports by the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanic students are shown to be more likely than other ethnicities to attend two-year colleges and find it increasingly difficult to graduate. Offering online classes in Spanish could be appealing to these students and hopefully increase the number of Hispanic students who seek and obtain college degrees. This program is designed to make Spanish-speaking students more comfortable with learning. By offering online classes, it should help them complete courses faster, thereby increasing their chances of graduating at rates closer or equal to those of their white counterparts.

As online education becomes more standard, it is up to colleges and universities to use the technology and mode of instruction in better, more innovative ways to reach out to people who may have otherwise never been able to achieve a post-secondary degree. By finding and appealing to groups such as women, minorities, including Hispanics, single mothers, and prisoners, who are less likely than the general population to obtain degrees; the U.S. could boast a more educated population in the coming years. By offering online education to high school students to help them graduate or begin earning college credits, universities can also better prepare its future students for the online technology now available to them. And by maintaining the standard of online education and making it appeal to specific groups, while still being available to the general population, online education could become more effective as a tool of engagement in higher education. The technology is here, and now is the time to explore methods of engagement so that larger groups of people will be motivated and inspired to succeed in obtaining their college degrees.

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Filed under high school students, Hispanic students, Lauren Gosnell, online education

The Horizon Report: Digital Media Literacy Challenges in Higher Education

by Martin LaGrow

The Horizon Report 2012 Higher Education Edition has been released, and it describes emerging technologies likely to have an impact over the next five years in higher education (Johnson, L., Adams, S., and Cummins, M. (2012).The NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas:The New Media Consortium). The report describes in detail dizzying prospects for the incorporation of everything from mobile apps to the Internet of Things, a development of networking made possible by the emergence of IPv6 for virtually unlimited connections that just wasn’t possible with the address space of IPv4. However, in addition to the exciting new opportunities that emerging technologies provide, new challenges arise for higher education as well. The Horizon Report outlines five of them. Institutions of higher learning would do well to evaluate their readiness for the inevitable approach of new learning models based on these challenges! The focus of this article is addressing one of these identified challenges, namely “Digital media literacy continues in its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.”

But what is digital media literacy, and why is it important? According to Laura Gurak, it is “…the ability to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, and analyze information using digital technology. It involves a working knowledge of current high-technology, and an understanding of how it can be used. Further, digital literacy involves a consciousness of the technological forces that affect culture and human behavior” (Gurak, Laura (2001). Cyberliteracy. New Haven: Yale University Press). In other words, the Horizon Report is telling us that all professionals must not only be able to apply digital technology and data to their profession, they must also be aware of the implications of using that technology and data in their particular context.

For students coming out of high school and entering higher education, most are already winning half of the battle. It seems that either the current generation of youth was designed for the technology revolution, or vice versa. For most students, it will not be a challenge for them to adapt to mobile apps, incorporate tablets into their learning, or even to embrace kinesthetic tools and gaming platforms utilized in academic environments. They practically demand it! Ease of adoption for the current generation is not an issue. For these students, collaborative learning and continuous interaction with peers is already a strength. So what’s the problem? What challenges impede digital media literacy in higher education? The answer is threefold.

Firstly, the student who has already learned to embrace digital media as a venue for communication has not necessarily learned discernment. University libraries, onetime bastions of peer reviewed, thoroughly researched papers are left by the wayside in favor of readily accessible Internet sources, some of questionable veracity. The peer review has been replaced by anonymous user reviews and “thumbs up” while credibility takes a backseat to convenience.  Rules of appropriateness in what constitutes good data seemingly stands on shifting ground when there is no monitoring of online content submitted. Higher education can embrace the challenge by doubling efforts both to provide access to scholarly content and training students to recognize acceptable material.

Secondly, the “nontraditional” returning students will find themselves in a world that may be foreign to them, as they find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. The average student age in the U.S. has been climbing steadily in recent years. At both Harvard and Notre Dame the average age as of 2009 was 27. The University of Phoenix, which offers both online and traditional degree programs, has an average student age of 35-37. On a larger scale, 38% of all college students are now 25 or older, according to a recent U.S Census Bureau report (http://blog.edvisors.com/online-education/the-average-age-of-students-is-on-the-upswing/). Many of these students are returning to college because they recognize the world has changed and they feel left behind. Already behind the curve, they are insecure about their limited proficiency and intimidated by a younger generation that has already embraced it. Just as with English and math skills, institutions of higher learning must develop a plan to identify those with emergent (or nonexistent) digital media literacy and bring them up to speed. Opportunities to develop and expand those skills should be identified and built into curricular areas.

Finally, instructors themselves must embrace the responsibility to lead their students (not follow them) into the digital age, whether they are teaching World History or Web Design.  Institutionally, this can be addressed proactively through hiring policies and retroactively through professional development. The Horizon Report speaks to the pervasiveness and infusion of digital media into all professions. The classroom environment must reflect this reality to adequately prepare students for their chosen vocation. Higher education knows a new kind of learner is entering the classroom. You may be surprised just how immersed this student is (take PBS’s quiz for an eye-opening look:  http://www.pbs.org/teachers/digital-media-literacy/quiz-yourself/). While colleges prepare for the contingent of students bringing digital media savvy to the classroom, greater attention should be placed on the digital media outcomes for all students leaving the classroom and entering a highly connected workforce.

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Filed under colleges and universities, digital media literacy, education, education technology, emerging technologies, higher education, Internet, Martin LaGrow

Kickstarter and Freedom from Publishers in Game Development

by Hap Aziz

Gameindustry.biz online has a brief article stating that Brian Fargo, founder of Interplay, will fund a sequel to the RPG game Wasteland using Kickstarter, and over the past few days his Twitter feed has revealed his thinking around the crowdsourcing model, with implications for the level of freedom developers would have not having to take publisher money to get the job done. The potential for innovation (and not having to always go the “safe” route) is tremendous. To individuals and smaller game design companies, this is very appealing, and for those of us that have been developing computer games since the late 1970s, this really has the feel of “garage development.” I’m looking to jumping (back) into development with my Williamsburg Interactive Fiction game project. It’s a humble reboot for me, but it takes me back to the pre Infocom days, when Scott Adams games on cassette tapes were all the rage.

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Filed under computer games, creativity, crowdsourcing, games, Hap Aziz, Interactive Fiction, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.com

Interactive Fiction, Kickstarter, and the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative Project

by Hap Aziz

A little off the beaten path (though still in keeping with my blog’s thematic underpinnings of learning through play), I was pleased to find out recently that a project idea that I pitched to Kickstarter was accepted, and that I can now start raising funds through the Kickstarter.com website. If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it is self-billed as “A New Way to Fund & Follow Creativity.” Basically, Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing website that allows a person with an idea to obtain funding in the form of contributions (not investment), with payback to the contributors taking the form of things produced by the project itself–like copies of a book, signed and numbered photographs, or free downloads of computer software. The projects themselves are creative endeavors such as photo books, board games, narrative films, musical performances, and so on.

The project I pitched is something I call the “Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative,” and my idea is to develop a work of Interactive Fiction that documents several aspects of historical Williamsburg. The Interactive Fiction framework will allow people to play the role of a character living in the time period leading to the independence of the original 13 colonies from England. The following is part of my pitch:

Imagine Interactive Fiction crafted around real places and people in history, where not only can a person read about settings and events, but the person can be a part of the unfolding story as an actual character. The intent of the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative project is to build the geography, culture, and characters from the years surrounding the birth of the United States in Williamsburg, Virginia, using the literary format of Interactive Fiction. This three-phase project will include the development of functional maps, the architecture of the historic buildings, and interaction with significant characters such as Patrick Henry and George Washington. Each phase is a project milestone, completion coming 150 days after start.

So now I’m on the hook to develop my Interactive Fiction program. Appropriately, this project also has a connection to my doctorate program and dissertation topic, so I will be killing multiple birds with a single (or at least a few) stone(s). Obviously, the success of my Kickstarter endeavor will be dependent upon my funding goal being met. For this, I will be relying heavily on my social media network, which includes the readers of this blog. Keep watching this space! Soon you’ll see the announcement opening up the funding window for the project. It is my sincere hope that many of you will see value in my project and decide to contribute!

UPDATE March 1, 2012: “Colonial Williamsburg” is a registered trademark of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. I have changed references from “Colonial Williamsburg” to “Historical Williamsburg” in this post.

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Filed under computer games, creativity, crowdsourcing, games, Hap Aziz, Interactive Fiction, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.com, narrative

IMS Announces Educational Positioning System Pilot

by Hap Aziz

If you have been following this blog, you may be aware that I have been involved in the development of a concept known as the “Educational Positioning System,” or the EPS. You can read some of my past blog entries on the topic here, here, here, and here. The EPS has gotten quite a bit of attention as a framework that can potentially transform the the level of engagement and control that students have regarding their own education. This represents a very disruptive level of technology that could flip the entire ownership conversation of academic data. Aneesh Chopra, the current Chief Technology Officer for the United States recognized this in bringing the concept back to the Obama Administration. Further, the IMS Global Learning Consortium (an organization dedicated to the advancement of education through the implementation of standards and use of effective practices) has taken on the EPS concept. I facilitated a workshop on the EPS in November of last year at the IMS Global Quarterly Meeting, and today the Consortium has issued the following press release:

Dear Friend of IMS Global,

Today, at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) meeting in Austin, TX, USA, there will be a presentation at 3 PM announcing a new IMS project. The presentation is entitled:  The Educational Positioning System: Guiding Learners Along Their Academic Path.

The EPS has emerged as a topic of interest in the U.S. in recent months, receiving some attention after it was brought up in a panel discussion as the EDUCAUSE annual conference in October:
http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/start-up-companies-tell-white-house-tech-chief-of-struggles-with-colleges/33872

On January 19th the White House announced several initiatives that are complementary to the EPS concept:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ed_data_commitments_1-19-12.pdf

IMS applauds the effective use of data.  Our focus is the use of data and interoperability to help individual students succeed.

Today, IMS is announcing a new project to work with IMS member organizations to implement EPS pilots. See the Call for Participation here: http://www.imsglobal.org/news.html

Currently we believe that the ideal initial focus for EPS pilots are systems of institutions. We are very pleased that the Lone Star College System has stepped up to lead the first pilot. In coming months IMS will be working with our members to pull this pilot together and hopefully initiate additional pilots.

We will also be covering this topic in depth at the annual IMS Learning Impact conference, May 14-17 in Toronto. Details for the conference are here: http://www.imsglobal.org/learningimpact2012/

Tune in to IMS for future announcements,

IMS Global

Right now I’m at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative 2012 Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas, where I’ll be co-presenting “The Educational Positioning System: Guiding Learners Along Their Academic Path.” It will be during this presentation when we make the EPS announcement officially to the public. But if you are reading this blog entry before 3 pm Central time, remember, you heard the news here first!

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Filed under announcement, education, education technology, Educational Positioning System, EDUCAUSE, effective practices, Hap Aziz, higher education, Open Government Platform, standards, technology, U.S. government