Category Archives: Learning Management Systems

The Relationship Between Facebook and GPAs

by Martin LaGrow

In 2009, a doctoral candidate from Ohio State University conducted a study of college students who use Facebook regularly (who knew there were any that didn’t?) and shared the results with the American Education Research Association (http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1891111,00.html). The study of 219 undergraduate and graduate students found that the GPAs of Facebook users averaged about a full grade point lower than those of nonusers. The implied conclusion—that Facebook has a detrimental impact on academics—is inescapable. Neuroscientists even go a step farther to claim that Facebook inhibits normal brain development and person-to-person interaction. Oxford professor Susan Greenfield suggests that constant connection to social media is guilty of “infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noised and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1153583/Social-websites-harm-childrens-brains-Chilling-warning-parents-neuroscientist.html).”
The case against Facebook seemed pretty grim for students, but the growing tide against the social media monster also generated pushback. Just like people can’t blame the fast food industry for their weight issues, perhaps college students can’t blame Facebook for their low GPA. Reynol Junco of Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania supported this premise after conducting a study of 1,839 college students. His conclusion was that for every 93 minutes spent on Facebook, the GPA dropped just .12 grade points. “Facebook use in and of itself is not detrimental to academic outcome,” says Junco. “It depends how it’s used (http://reyjunco.com/wordpress/pdf/JuncoCHBFacebookGrades.pdf).” Junco even went one step further to suggest that using Facebook as an information-gathering source can even increase GPA’s.
Going back to the original study, if we accept the premise that Facebook users earn a full grade lower than non-users, we then have to address the fact that correlation does not equal causation. It’s critical to look at the nature of the individual who is drawn to use social media two hours a day. This is a person who desires instant feedback. It is a person who wants social interaction. It is a person who does not just want to be passively engaged, but wants to be part of the dialogue. It is a person who wants to share thoughts, feelings, and ideas for the response of others, as well as to participate in the dialogue when others post theirs. In a traditional LMS, where controlled content is king, this learner will not thrive.
Junco’s study forces us to take a step back and recognize that the original study has nothing to do with whether someone chooses to use Facebook or not and it has more to do with different styles of learning. Facebook does well what traditional LMSs do poorly—it provides tools for engagement that suit the user. It is intuitive. It is open. Interaction and connections are the most valuable component, and that mimics the way that most people learn. Perhaps the question is not “How does Facebook affect GPAs?” but rather, “How can education learn from Facebook to increase GPAs?”

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Filed under Learning Management Systems, learning outcomes, Martin LaGrow, social media

Making the Connection between Millenial Students and Online Education

by Hap Aziz

Earlier this week I attended a conference (for our Ellucian CIOs), and one of the sessions that greatly interested me was “Millienial Behaviors and Higher Educations Focus Group Results” presented by Richard Sweeney, the university librarian for the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Mr. Sweeney’s session was actually in two segments: he first discussed what the research has revealed about Millennial students, and then a group of 13 college and university students were brought onstage as a live focus group. He asked the group several questions (the answers the students gave to some of which were quite surprising), and then for about the last 15 minutes of the session, the students fielded questions from the audience.

Millennial students were defined as those now going to school that were born between 1980 and 2000 – aged ranging fr0m 12 to 32 years old. In a study* comparing Millennial medical students to Generation X medical students, the Millennials were found to be more warm and outgoing, more abstract than concrete, more adaptive and mature, more dutiful, more socially bold and adventuresome, more sensitive and sentimental, more self-doubting and worried, more open to change and experimenting, and more organized and self disciplined. One of the key findings of the study is that Millennials “have greater needs to belong to social groups and to share with others, stronger team instincts and tighter peer bonds, and greater needs to achieve and succeed” (p. 574). The implications are fuzzy when it comes to online learning. Must these social groups be face to face, or will online social networks provide the requisite connectivity between the individuals?

In either case, as educators we need to optimize the social characteristics of the online experience in order to facilitate the Millenials’ feelings of belonging and abilities to bond with their peers. Another datapoint** shared by Mr. Sweeney is that for Millennials, “interaction and a sense of community are the key requests of those born digital when it comes to online learning, as surveys indicate” (p. 248). If we look at examples of online interaction such as participation in Xbox Live or the Playstation Network, we see that it can be quite compelling. Millions of recurring users subscribing to a pay-for-play model is a strong indicator of success in this case.

Having the student focus group allowed us to ask a sample of Millennial students about their perceptions, and one of the questions was whether or not they liked the online mode of learning. Without exception, all the student panelists expressed the sentiment that their online courses were not engaging, with consensus that online courses were not effective as an avenue for learning. I wanted to dig deeper in this direction, hoping to draw a distinction between online courses and online learning. I asked the students whether or not they were comfortable going online to learn about anything, say for a hobby interest or particular need they may have had at some point in time. Again, there was unanimous agreement–this time to express that going online to learn things was something that the students did regularly. The content that they were able to access for the personal needs was much more engaging than was the content developed for their online courses.

The answer to this question certainly requires further study, but it reinforces an intuition that I (and many educators) have had for quite some time: while online content developed for the general consumer (in a highly mind-share competitive environment) captures attention and brings users back repeatedly, online courses are often bland and uninspiring, and the reasons for their use may vary, but the quality of engagement of the overall online course experience is not among those reasons. This doesn’t surprise me, as I sample online courses developed for and within the current breed of learning management systems. There is a cookie-cutter feel to the content, and while there is greater integration of multimedia materials, these elements are episodic within the courses rather than integrated in a way that provides a true interactive experience to engage the learner.

Is this an artifact of the “mass production” of online courses? Perhaps, but there is little reason for this to be the operational model. A decade ago, designers discussed the power of the World Wide Web based in the ability for the “mass customization” of content. Yet when we examine online courses as currently developed, we see the presentation of an experience that is the same for each and every student within the same course. Every student progresses through the same discussion forums in the same sequence, answering the same prompts. Every student completes the same assignments, usually in the same calendar-driven sequence. Every student listens to the same podcasts, flips through the same PowerPoint slides, and watches the same video clips assigned by their instructors.

The important question to answer now becomes one of transformation. How do we as educators infuse online courses with the level of interactivity that will actually engage our students? (Hint: Think computer games, but think “small” at the same time.)

 

*Nichole J Borges et al.  “Comparing Millennial and Generation X Medical Students at One Medical School.  Academic Medicine;  81.6 (2006): 571-576
**Pauley, John and Urs Gasser. Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.  New York: Basic Books,  2008

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Filed under computer games, education, education course content, education technology, face-to-face instruction, games, gamification, Hap Aziz, higher education, Internet, Learning Management Systems, Millennial students, online education

Legacy Systems and the Anchors that Work Against Change

by Hap Aziz

Back in October, 1995, a small computer company called Be, Inc. (founded by former Apple executives), released a new computer into the marketplace. This machine was called the BeBox, and from 1995 to 1997, less than 2000 of these computers were produced for developers. The BeBox had a lot of unique features going for it such as dual CPUs, built-in MIDI ports, and something called a GeekPort that allowed hardware experimenters both digital and analog access directly to the system bus. One of my personal favorite features of the BeBox was the pair of “Blinkenlight” stacks on both sides of the front bezel. Functioning like a graphic equalizer, they depicted the real-time load of each of the CPUs in the machine.

But as exciting as the hardware was to computer geeks like me, the real revolution was in the Be Operating System, or the BeOS, as it was called. Written specifically to run on the BeBox hardware, BeOS was optimized for digital media applications, and it actually took full advantage of modern computer hardware with its capabilities of symmetric multiprocessing, true preemptive multitasking, and a 64-bit journaling file system (which for practical purposes meant you could shut off power at any time without going through a shut-down process, and when you turned the machine back on, you would find that your open files were still intact).

BeOS was able to accomplish all sorts of things that Windows, the Mac OS, and Linux could not by shedding nearly all of the legacy “baggage” that the other operating systems continued to carry. The Be team was free to rethink the underlying software systems paradigm at the very deepest levels, and the results were truly astounding to those that saw the BeBox in operation.

The moral of the story is that the greatest transformation is possible when we rethink processes and technologies that have been in place for years, decades, and even generations. This is significant when we think of education, because the majority of our education systems are indeed legacy systems, designed and implemented to facilitate processes that were put into practice over a century ago. Even our “modern” Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems are limited by the “legacy anchor,” and as a result, we see little true transformation in the teaching and learning space. Education timelines are based on year “blocks” of content, and each block is targeted to a particular age group of student (why is every student of approximately the same age grouped in the same grade?). The foundation of the classroom experience is still the lecture, and with online courses we work to “fit the lecture” into an asynchronous mode. Assessment and evaluation processes are, well, pretty much the same as they have been, only with more variation in execution. Schools and institutions of learning are hardly any different than they were in the 1700s–a group of students go to a building where they meet in a room and work with a single instructor. Even in the online environment, we build virtual analogs to the physical world: a group of students go to a URL where they meet in discussion forums and still work with a single instructor.

What would true transformation look like, given the technologies that are available now? How would we write a new, legacy-free education operating system for the 21st century? Those are two very big questions that could spawn a series of lengthy discussions (and, frankly, I need to write a book about it), but I have a few principles that I would offer up:

  • Education should be non-linear from the perspective of time spent on task. That is to say, a concept such as “4th Grade Mathematics” where all 9 year old children are expected to learn the same content over the same amount of time should go away. Little Julie may master fractions and long division in three months while little Stanley may take half a year. At the same time, little Stanley might be happily absorbing 18th century American literature, while little Julie is still working on more basic reading comprehension skills.
  • Places of education should be built to meet specific learner needs rather than be built around the same specifications of classroom space, administration space, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and so on. Why does every elementary school look like every other elementary school, and not just across stretches of geography, but across time as well? The elementary school I attended in the 1960s would function with little modification for my daughter who is in elementary school now. Surely learners (at any age group) are not a monolithic group with singular needs, yet we build places of education as though they are.
  • Education should offer multiple pathways forward rather than a single path that results in matriculation to the “next grade” or failure and repetition of the previous grade. In the world of computer game design, multiple pathways forward is commonplace, allowing players with various skills to progress according to his or her particular strengths–and in making progress, the player is often able to “circle back” and solve particular challenges that he or she was unable to complete earlier in the game. In the same way, a learner may bypass a particularly challenging content area, yet come back with greater skills acquired in a different “track” better able to solve the original challenge.
  • In fact, the idea of “grade levels” is in many respects antithetical to the concept of the lifelong learner. Why measure start points and end points as set dates on a calendar? Rather, education milestones should be set and achieved on a skills-mastery framework, and this process is ongoing for the true lifelong learner. The ramifications of this would be profound on a social level (the singular graduation moment may no longer exist), but from the perspective of personal growth and fulfillment, the benefits could be tremendous, and there will certainly be just as many–if not more–opportunities for celebrations of achievement.

Ultimately, bringing significant transformative change to the education-industrial complex will require rethinking of almost every segment of the teaching and learning process, including the manner in which we engage technologies to support that process. Being willing to discard our legacy baggage will be extremely difficult for many. Yet doing so will be the only way in which we might remix our 21st century technologies of smart devices, mobile connectivity, social media, the Internet, and more into an educational system that meets the diverse needs of our 21st century learners.

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Filed under children, colleges and universities, computer games, creativity, education, education technology, effective practices, emerging technologies, face-to-face instruction, future technology, games, Hap Aziz, higher education, Internet, Learning Management Systems, learning outcomes, legacy systems, online education, smartphones, social media, Student Information System, tablets, technology, virtual college

Selecting Learning Management Systems: Is the RFP Process Appropriate?

By Dr. Suzanne Kissel

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to attend a WCET webcast entitled “Why the RFP Process Doesn’t Work in Today’s LMS Market.”   Pausing only to register, I forwarded the invitation to my colleagues and blocked out the requisite time on Tuesday, May 22nd.  I think that I’m going to make it back from my client meeting just in time to hear the panelists Phil Hill, Executive Vice President at Delta Initiative, and Patrick Masson, Chief Technology Officer at UMassOnline speak to the matter.  As someone involved in helping to write LMS RFP and evaluating the results, I am eager to hear these experts, but I also have my own thoughts.

While looking for an example to share with a colleague, I ran across my notes for putting together an LMS RFP and selection process.  They highlighted the creation of a selection team, identification of a key decision-maker, system & technical requirements, on-site presentations by selected vendors, surveys, and involvement by faculty and staff.  I shot the notes off to my colleague with the thought that they were probably what she wanted before I looked at the date when I wrote them.  It was 2004.

Although it’s certainly possible to argue that LMS aspects have not changed since 2004, what it means to learn and teach online is undergoing vigorous renegotiation.  The well-documented successes of open courses along with free or low-cost online learning tools are just two of many.   Technology and learning are intertwined with each other.  Change in one leads to re-application or re-definition of the other.  So, if the technology has changed or is in the process of changing, why have LMS selection processes more or less stayed the same?

Part of it is the cost and the commitment involved; selecting an LMS has been likened to a marriage.   It’s expensive to get in, but even more expensive to get out.  The stakes are high.   Instructors and administrators have to interact and depend on the LMS on a daily basis.  Glitches in the LMS have wide-reaching implications and must be resolved in a timely manner.  As a result, the RFP process has become increasingly bloated.  It’s expensive to run and even more expensive to participate in.  Smaller companies, open source alternatives, or even free-ware simply cannot compete with the larger players who can create sandboxes, make multiple site visits, and fill out RFP’s that can sometimes reach into the hundreds of pages (I know, I’ve helped create some of these).   Because of the proactive sales and marketing techniques of the larger LMS companies it is not uncommon for institutional stakeholders to have already pretty much made the decision before the RFP has already been written.   The long process often is conducted anyway.

The alternatives to the traditional LMS are out there; the difficulty is changing the RFP process from what it was back in 2004, when there were no alternatives, to select the best product for the school.

If I had to rewrite that 2004 document, how would I do it?  I’d like to share some preliminary thoughts here and hope that they’ll perhaps inspire some discussion.

  1. Evaluate Institutional Needs – Too often, institutions get hung up on features, but the need should be cast wider.  Of course, there is always cost and support.  However, what are the ultimate goals and objectives – are they to grow a distance-learning program?  Retain students? Offer mainly web-enhanced and hybrid courses?  Participate in a consortium or share courses across institutional boundaries?  Try not only to look at present institutional needs, but those that relate to the future as well.
  2. Consider Online Content – More frequently than not, institutions of higher education anticipate updating, reviewing, and considering standards for their online courses at the same time they move LMS.  With the growing demand for differentiated content and, as Phil Hill identifies, the increasing overlap between the LMS platform market and the content market, it becomes important to consider all possible alternatives to the LMS.
  3. Keep an Open Mind – This is open in all sense of the word – open-to-open source, open or Creative Commons licensed content, and open to LMS alternatives.  Of course, this is not to say that one of these should be selected, but this attribute as well as the willingness to do some research should lead to a much more streamlined RFP.

I wanted to write all of this down before the much-anticipated WCET webinar; I look forward to hearing the opinions of the panels and comparing them to my own.  This is an important conversation and I’m glad to have a part in it.

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Blackboard Acquires Moodlerooms; Borg Reevalute Strategies for Assimilation

by Hap Aziz

I admit, with the acquisitions that Blackboard has made over the years, I could not resist the Star Trek reference. However, the ramifications for this latest move by the LMS heavyweight are quite far reaching, especially in terms of the impact it could have on the open source marketplace for learning management systems. Realize, that as large as Blackboard’s market share is, even after the acquisitions of WebCT and Angel, their market share as been decreasing–slowly, but decreasing still. This is the type of move that could be considered a game-changer, as long as there is a commitment on the part of Bb leadership to leverage Moodleroom expertise rather than bury it.

(Does anyone remember the story of Quark and mTropolis?)

From our perspective here at Learning Through Play & Technology, there are some definite upsides as well as some potential bad news from this move. We’ll take a few days to survey the education landscape and present our analysis. In the mean time, we encourage you to take a look at what Ray Henderson has to say on the topic.

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Filed under announcement, education technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, Learning Management Systems

Experiences with GoodSemester

by Dr. Suzanne Kissel

I can’t believe that it’s been as long as a month since I was invited to join GoodSemester.  The email has been sitting in my inbox since February 15th, waiting for me to make the time to attend to it properly.  On March 15th, however, the folks at GoodSemester announced that anyone could sign up for an account, for free, no invite required.

So much for exclusivity.

But exclusivity is not really the point of platforms like GoodSemester.   The platform is designed to take advantage of connections between people and materials to generate knowledge.  For instance, the primary means of sharing content in GoodSemester is through Notes.  Although the types of content supported by this feature are fairly standard, the sharing capabilities inherent in the system are not.   Authors can keep notes private, restrict them to course participants, or make them globally available.  If the later is selected, notes are licensed under Creative Commons, meaning that others can use them with proper attribution.  Under ideal conditions, therefore, the note becomes a collaborative item with the initial author able to see changes that others have made and participate in the conversation.  In GoodSemester, the function most commonly seen as analogous to the classroom lecture is made collaborative; however, any attempt to compare GoodSemester’s notes and notepad to LMS content functionality soon falls apart.  It is like comparing apples and oranges; there just isn’t enough in common to make a worthwhile comparison.

This sparks questions about how we can categorize GoodSemester.  Is it an LMS?  I don’t think so and the folks who created the platform agree with me.   In a recent interview with the company founder Jason Rappaport, Michael Feldstein acknowledges the difficulty of categorizing the product.  He also identifies this as an issue typical of today’s marketplace:

And one of the questions platform developers and teachers alike are asking is how much functionality do you really need? Is it just WordPress? Is it WordPress plus Google Docs? Is it WordPress, Google Docs, and grade book? Is it a simple LMS with only a handful of tools and an app store? There are lots of different models.

He’s right, of course.  It seems that most of the new technologies that I’ve evaluated for teaching are designed to do a few things in a near revolutionary fashion rather than all things as expected.  They pit openness, collaboration, and an individual focus again products that define themselves as system.  If there’s one thing that I know about all of the products that I use to facilitate instruction is that they are not systems.

But the question is that whether all of these products that-are-not-systems relate to the systematic mindset that so pervades how institutions of higher education approach technology.  This is never more evident than in LMS selection process.  Since 2002, I’ve participated in these sometimes very long, very drawn out activity that seems to question everything, other than whether the institution really needs an LMS at all.   The fact that an institution needs a system to take on the complex and increasingly vital operations associated with hybrid and online learning almost goes without saying.

I’m not going to quibble with whether the institution needs a system or not, but the burgeoning of tools reinventing how we teach online begs the question of why schools can’t create their own system?  Rather than embarking on a process to select an LMS, it would be so much more cost effective and efficient to pour that energy into building an LMS from all of the pieces and parts abounding in the marketplace.

It is becoming increasingly clear that institutions need to step away from the apparent safety of buying an all-in-one solution and start exploring the possibilities of building what they really need.

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Filed under colleges and universities, education, higher education, Learning Management Systems, Suzanne Kissel

BlackBerry and the Lifecycle of Education Technologies

by Hap Aziz

In today’s issue of The New Yorker online, James Surowiecki has an article titled, “BlackBerry Season,” that is a very interesting take on the decline of the Research In Motion smartphone that dominated the marketplace–before the arrival of the iPhone and then Android phones in the consumer marketplace. Surowiecki writes:

“The easy explanation for what happened to R.I.M. is that, like so many other companies, it got run over by Apple. But the real problem is that the technology world changed, and R.I.M. didn’t. The BlackBerry was designed for businesses. Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments. The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security. It was a closed system, running on its own network. The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users. So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too.”

I have made similar statements regarding education technology in various entries in this blog (such as Prediction: Commercial Applications Will Drive Education Use… Yet Again), and based on Surowiecki’s article, the sentiment that consumers can drive what was widely considered to be enterprise software systems spans across industry verticals. Let’s parse the above passage from the context of education technology solutions, such as the learning management system, and note the situational similarities:

  • The BlackBerry was designed for business.
  • The learning management system was designed for education.
  • Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments.
  • Its true customers weren’t students but the faculty and administrators who run higher education institutions.
  • The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security.
  • The learning management system gave them what they wanted most: control over the institution-student interaction.
  • It was a closed system running on its own network.
  • It was a closed system running on its own network.
  • The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users.
  • The learning management system’s layout and configuration couldn’t easily be tinkered with by students.
  • So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too.
  • So education institutions loved it, and the learning management system’s developers assumption was that, once institutions embraced the technology, students would too.

Does anyone else see what I’m seeing? The point I’m making is that so many of the tools that pass for technological innovation within the higher education landscape (and not just learning management systems) are simply solutions developed for the wrong customer. Ultimately, the technology adopted and used effectively in higher education will be the innovations that students bring with them from their own personal lives and empower them to take control of their own education. Clickers, for example, have no place in the classroom when students can easily find clicker apps for their smartphones. Technology only has the power to transform if it is actually embraced–and not forced upon the user for reasons of convenience of management.

Surowiecki concludes his article in this way:

“Companies have quickly come to love consumerization, too: a recent study by the consulting firm Avanade found that executives like the way it keeps workers plugged in all day long. And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs. One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt. It’s a brave new world. It’s just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.”

Breaking this passage down, we understand that higher education institutions should come to love the consumerization of technology in the teaching and learning space, as educators will like the way it keeps students plugged in all day long. And if students end up paying for their own devices, we could see reductions in the cost of resources and materials that institutions need to purchase. It’s clear that students are going to have more say in what technologies higher education institutions adopt. The question is, what companies are built to take advantage of this dynamic?

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Filed under colleges and universities, cost of education, education, education technology, emerging technologies, future technology, Hap Aziz, higher education, Learning Management Systems, smartphones, technology