Learning Decompressed

Bringing video streaming technology into edtech conversations.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jason Thibeault

CREDIT LimelightIt probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I believe the most significant factor  changing education is technology. There is no doubt that technology is revolutionizing education in many ways, but one way that does not often come to the forefront of conversations is video streaming technologies—compressed content sent over the internet and decompressed by a player on the user’s computer. Video streaming technology is making education more accessible, which has been made possible by advancements in access to high-speed internet connections. Several domestic and transnational initiatives have focused on this goal. For example, ConnectED has a lofty goal to connect 99 percent of students in America to high-speed broadband by 2018, and Facebook is attempting to connect remote parts of the developing world to wireless internet.

Perhaps in the future, video streaming will blur the line between “inside the classroom” and “outside the classroom” so well that we will be forced to redefine what it means to be in school.

According to Project Tomorrow’s recent Speak Up survey, forty-six percent of teachers are using video in their classrooms, and one-third of students are accessing videos online to help them with their homework. Twenty-three percent of students are accessing videos created by their teachers, and educational institutions based exclusively on videos are also gaining traction, with non-profits like Khan Academy leading the way.

Why An Increase

There are a number of reasons for the increased use of video streaming technologies in recent years. Online learning has emerged as an effective solution to help combat the high costs of traditional higher education. A Brookings Institution study found that student loans increased by a whopping 77 percent from 2002-2012, and the price tag for attending an in-state, public four-year college grew by nearly 32 percent during the same period. Many students have been rethinking their college plans as a result, and online learning has become a good alternative to traditional higher education for many of them. In addition, video streaming allows students to learn at their own pace and tailored to their unique learning needs. Video streaming enables more “learning by doing,” which is often engaging for students.

Several organizations are innovating in the video streaming space. The nonprofit Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) is working with video streaming technology to increase access and educational opportunities for students with visual and/or hearing impairments. DCMP has an education library that is available instantly with thousands of educational materials for teachers of students who have visual and/or hearing impairments. Through Limelight Networks’ content delivery network, DCMP’s is able to automatically convert their content to the right format for any connected device. Arizona-based Spear Education offers professional development seminars and hands-on workshops, and the organization’s online platform includes over 1,300 research-driven educational videos. Spear Education’s underlying premise is that the convenience of learning via video makes it more convenient for busy dentistry professionals to seek out professional growth opportunities. But higher education is also adopting video streaming to extend their classroom experiences—MIT, Stanford, and the State University of New York just to name a few.

Inside Out

Still, it’s important to note that video streaming will never be a replacement for the traditional classroom. Rather, it should complement other forms of instruction. By leveraging streaming video and supporting technologies (such as social integration, quizzes, and additional content that is synchronized with the video), educators can replicate components of the classroom outside of the school walls and hours, and enhance the quality of students’ learning experiences. Consider the following example—a student could watch an online video of frog dissection at home (interacting with other students through social media while watching, clicking on elements within the video to expand key content, taking quizzes) before coming into class for the real lesson.

A great example of this is the McGraw Hill Virtual Lab which combines live videos with other interactive elements. By using streaming video in this fashion, teachers can use in-person, class time for activities such as project-based learning or class-wide discussions. Video streaming should augment the classroom and enhance learning by empowering students with engaging, interactive, and immersive experiences that work in conjunction with traditional instruction as well as making knowledge sharing feasible for all, no matter a student’s resources, locations, or abilities.

We are seeing the transformative properties of streaming video across a wide range of industries, but no more so than in education. And as streaming video technologies continue to morph—virtual reality, augmented reality, interactivity—educational providers will gain more power and tools to extend and expand the learning experience. Perhaps in the future, video streaming will blur the line between “inside the classroom” and “outside the classroom” so well that we will be forced to redefine what it means to be in school. Without a doubt, traditional learning, as we know it, is in for a wild ride.

Jason Thibeault is Senior Director of Content Marketing at Limelight Networks.

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What Analytics Aren’t

The new VP of analytics at a leading edtech company talks data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Sharkey

CREDIT Blackboard AnalyticsAnalytics aren’t a cure-all for education institutions. They don’t solve problems automatically. There isn’t an instruction manual on how to properly use data. In general, “analytics” is the process by which we turn raw data into valuable information. Analytics is a tool for problem solving. In most cases, regardless of its application, it requires human intervention. Additionally, analytics software isn’t magical. There’s no alchemy where we create substantive information from vapor. If a class is taught face-to-face with physical textbooks and papers submitted via email to the instructor, it is difficult to derive an accurate model around classroom engagement.

In education, analytics can help you break down the problem and look at all of the pieces, but we need to rely on faculty, advisors, dedicated administrators, or the students themselves to take action and make a difference.

So why do I start off this column with a big wet blanket of reality about analytics? It’s because I want to be very clear about the capabilities of analytics. In my new role as the vice president of Analytics for Blackboard, I talk to lots of folks about data. I communicate the benefits (and realities) of analytics to my colleagues and our customers and partners around the globe. I’m constantly making sure that the message about analytics is clear so that it doesn’t get mangled in the telephone game of life.

Recently, I spoke with a number of people on our team who work with clients about our analytics offerings. The crux of my conversations was to be crystal clear about what analytics are and what analytics aren’t. Those very qualified folks will be the ones engaging with clients, and I need to make sure everyone is on the same page. That’s why I start off with what analytics aren’t. Successful analytic initiatives typically involve a systematic, step-by-step progression toward a goal. Every customer engagement I have worked on in my 25-year career (14 in higher education) has been unique and was treated as such. I’ve always said that analytics complement the human decision-making process — they don’t replace it. That means we have to account for human variance. We can’t rely on the methodical consistency of software.

So, if we started with what analytics aren’t, what are they? I’ll give two bullet points on that:

  • Analytics allow us to understand data. That understanding can inform people (teachers, advisors, administrators), provide insights that might not be obvious, and can help guide the actions we take.
  • Analytics can also help teachers, advisors and administrators act more efficiently by surfacing information that might otherwise take time to extract (think about counting posts in a discussion forum).

I can probably slice these into a few more points, but let’s stop there for now. As an instructor, analytics arm me with information that I can use to make better decisions, and they can also offload administrative tasks so that I can spend my time on the important things (like teaching and giving feedback).

In addition to my sessions with our client-facing team, there were two other items recently that inspired this column. First, there was a New York Times’ opinion piece called ‘How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers‘. The piece espouses my top personal philosophy — achieving balance. Data, analytics, and measurement are good things, but we can’t go overboard. A dearth of standardized testing and ratings systems is a stark symptom of an over-reliance on data. The second item is Phil Hill’s ‘It’s Called Data Analysis And Not Data Synthesis For A Reason‘ post on e-literate. Phil uses a TED talk from a computational geneticist named Sebastian Wernicke. The key takeaway from the talk, in my mind, is summed up in this quote:

“Data and data analysis, no matter how powerful, can only help you taking a problem apart and understanding its pieces. It’s not suited to put those pieces back together again and then to come to a conclusion.”

Again — it’s a great idea to focus on what analytics aren’t. In education, analytics can help you break down the problem and look at all of the pieces, but we need to rely on faculty, advisors, dedicated administrators, or the students themselves to take action and make a difference. Remember that the next time you have a conversation about analytics in K-12 or higher education. Think about the problem you’re trying to solve. Believe it or not, that problem isn’t “analytics”. It’s more likely a higher-level issue such as retention or effective teaching, and analytics can help you solve it.

Mike Sharkey, VP of Analytics at Blackboard, is responsible for their suite of analytics products, including predictive, learning and warehousing analytics tools used by higher education institutions to help retain students, improve the teaching and learning process, and answer insightful questions about students, courses and programs. 

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Globally Competent

From Boston to Botswana, developing truly effective cross-border collaborations.

GUEST COLUMN | by Marisa Wolsky

CREDIT DesignSquadAs we face the beginning of the 21st century, economists and government agencies are putting forth an urgent call for a new engineering workforce. At the same time, there is a growing awareness that technical skills alone aren’t enough to compete in a global economy. The call for equipping young people with the skills and dispositions necessary to live in today’s world—defined by the digital revolution and unprecedented human migration—is dominating educational discourse. The National Research Council, for example, has deemed American students’ lack of knowledge about other countries a “critical shortcoming,” and has voiced its strong support for the teaching of other cultures, particularly at the K-12 level. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Education unveiled a plan to strengthen U.S. education and advance U.S. international priorities, including developing global competencies and engagement with other countries for all students.

What does the process in which students work collaboratively across distance and cultures look like?

What are the abilities students need to develop in order to become globally competent? Drawing from the capacities defined by the CCSSO: Ed-Steps Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning and Project Zero-Harvard University’s Global Thinking Routines, these include the ability to:

  • Investigate the world: develop an interest in people and places around the globe
  • Understand that people live in different environments and have different resources
  • Recognize different perspectives—both their own and those of others, and how these perspectives can change over time
  • Listen to and communicate with different audiences, treating them with empathy and respect

One way for students to develop these abilities is through projects that connect U.S. students to their peers in other countries. The J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative, designed to increase people-to-people exchange between youth in the United States and the Middle East and North Africa as a lasting tribute to the legacy of Ambassador Chris Stevens, is one such project. WGBH’s Design Squad Global is also creating virtual communities (Design Squad Global Clubs) where eight-to-13-year-olds in out-of-school programs around the world work together to solve real-world problems. By collaborating on engineering issues that are meaningful and socially relevant to people from different parts of the world, the young engineers and inventors in these clubs begin to discover that they are global citizens who can take action and make a difference in the world.

What does the process in which students work collaboratively across distance and cultures look like? In Design Squad Global Clubs, students at the Phatsimong Youth Centre in Gaborone, Botswana were matched with students at the Promise Neighborhood afterschool program in Boston, Massachusetts. Over the course of 10 weeks, they worked together to identify needs in their communities that could be addressed through engineering solutions. At the Phatsimong Youth Centre: “Botswana has the second highest prevalence of HIV in the world…Youth are still dying because of poor medication adherence. Youth don’t take their medication for a variety of reasons, including side effects and forgetfulness. Due to this, one of our groups was inspired to make a pill reminder.” At Promise Neighborhood: “We’re [designing] a homemade air conditioner that can be used without electricity. We chose this because in Boston the weather can be temperamental, and most buildings do not have central air conditioning because it is too expensive and not needed all year round.”

With the increased globalization of our world, this is an ideal time to develop projects that connect U.S. students to their peers in other countries. 

Throughout the process, the students in Boston and Botswana answered cultural questions and shared interests. The students were very surprised that they were more similar than different. Students in Botswana learned that students in Boston did not use expensive materials in their engineering projects, but used recycled materials like they did. (They had thought that “the kids in Boston would be better than us.”) They also didn’t expect the Boston students to like their invention, saying it felt “amazing” to get positive feedback from them on their design. The students in Boston were interested to know that the students in Botswana spoke English and had access to different kinds of materials for building than they did. They also appreciated the different and interesting approaches to engineering the students in Botswana took.

With the increased globalization of our world, this is an ideal time to develop projects that connect U.S. students to their peers in other countries. Developing truly effective international collaborations requires that we build an evidence base about when and how to acknowledge and accommodate differences both across and within cultures. WGBH would welcome hearing about other promising practices in cross-cultural collaboration to both to improve the Design Squad Global Club model and to inform the field.

Marisa Wolsky is an Executive Producer at WGBH Educational Foundation with over 20 years of experience turning STEM content into entertaining and educational media and curricular resources for kids and their educators.

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Better Resources

What is the state of digital media in higher education?

GUEST COLUMN | by Patrick Merfert

CREDIT videoblocks 2016 state of digital media in higher edWe conducted the 2016 State of Digital Media in Higher Education survey after hearing from students, faculty, and administrators that digital media and visual literacy were key pieces to developing graduates that could be competitive in today’s job market.

Insights were gathered from more than 300 current educators, administrators, and students that represented more than 200 universities including: The University of Pennsylvania; Johns Hopkins; Brown University; University of California, Berkeley; Wake Forest; and New York University.

The survey found that 91 percent of faculty and 76 percent of students agree that including digital media in course materials improves engagement, yet only 20 percent of faculty reported using digital media in all lectures, and 18 percent said they rarely or never use digital media.

Edtech providers should strive to not only provide better training resources, but also build simplicity and intuition directly into their product and user interfaces.

The survey surfaced that a lack of university provided resources was a primary culprit; 44 percent of faculty and 30 percent of students said their universities could provide better digital resources. As a result, there is a real mismatch between both students and faculty on visual literacy standards. 45 percent of students believe that they are highly literate, with only 14 percent of faculty agreeing.

Similarly, half of faculty see themselves as highly literate, with only 23 percent of students agreeing. The solution here is to provide better digital media resources – schools spend millions on new facilities, but skimp on content. It’s like buying a Tesla and never plugging it in.

Finally, when faculty were asked to describe their biggest frustrations with education technology they listed learning how to use it – including finding the time to learn and ineffective training. To solve this, edtech providers should strive to not only provide better training resources, but also build simplicity and intuition directly into their product and user interfaces.

Despite these current challenges, digital media in higher education has progressed substantially in the past decade. The feedback from both educators and students is encouraging, with an overwhelmingly positive sentiment regarding the impact that digital media can have in educational environments.

To realize even greater benefits from digital media, administrators and educators need to work collaboratively to promote digital literacy, universities need to provide adequate funding for digital media resources, and technology providers need to build more intuitive products and training materials.

Patrick Merfert is Director of Demand Generation – Education & Enterprise at VideoBlocks. To read additional findings, download the full 2016 State of Digital Media in Higher Education Report here.

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The New Politics of Educational Data

A widening ideological divide emerges with powerful implications for the future of education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Bryan Alexander 

CREDIT WH.govAs winter gives way to spring in the northern hemisphere, we are witnessing the emergence of a new politics of educational data. Based on discussions I’ve conducted with leading thinkers and practitioners, I can identify two competing ideologies, with powerful implications for the future of education.

On the one hand there is a drive to reshape assessment, which we could call Testing 2.0, in the wake of general dissatisfaction with America’s No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top policies. In their place is a possible reduction of formal testing combined with increasing collection of student data throughout their schooling. Opposed to this is a nascent movement in favor of student autonomy and ownership of data as empowerment strategies.

The pro-data-gathering side would build substantial and probably centralized mechanisms to facilitate tracking and managing student learning, while their opponents would have IT departments help students shape their own, self-directed digital experience.

Explaining Testing 2.0, Audrey Watters argues that Silicon Valley and venture capital are deeply interested in data-gathering and analysis, informed in part by thinking descended from Taylorism in management and behaviorism in psychology. These concepts in turn shape an approach of using data to manage learning, as well as managing students and instructors, based on finely grained outcomes assessments. The results can then enter algorithms, which have the potential for automating some or all of that educational management.

Casey Green expanded this argument, noting that his Campus Computing Survey shows IT departments increasingly working on the expanding amount of data generated by student interaction with institutional systems. Learning management system (LMS) providers may start innovating and competing with each other to create data harvesting and analysis tools.

It’s important to remember that the recent generation of high stakes testing, represented by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, has reached its peak of influence and started to recede with the new ESSA law, according to Anya Kamenetz. Educators still see testing as vital, but are shifting from emphasizing major formal tests to more frequent querying of student learning through data gathering and analysis.

Opposing this vision of campus data analytics is one articulated by Will Richardson, whereby students receive not analysis so much as responsibility for their own data and learning. Richardson argued that adults in the world beyond school learn best by exercising their own agency, and that schools should apply this paradigm to students. Digital media has historically inspired this kind of learner autonomy in the work of educators like Papert; social media offers a technological basis for that in the present. In addition Richardson, Watters, Kamenetz, and Green raise serious questions about student privacy in a world of escalating dataveillance.

Richardson, Watters, and Jim Groom advocate one particular form of enhancing student agency over data: the domain of one’s own, a method whereby learners create, own, and shape their own web presence. Kamenetz sees the domain movement as part of returning students to ownership over the materials they produce in the course of learning, such as exams, lab reports, essays, projects, and their transcripts. Groom views the student-owned web domain as a way of giving students the space to learn technical and social skills around the modern web, based on a real sense of independence. Indeed, these skills may constitute fundamentals in an emerging digital literacy, especially in terms of student-managed social connections. Student-owned web domains are also bulwarks of privacy, teaching students how to better handle their digital presence in the real (cyber) world away from campus IT silos.

Kamenetz articulated another aspect of this learner autonomy thinking by urging a greater focus on qualitative instead of quantitative assessment. E-portfolios integrated into curricula and programs offer one good way of building up the qualitative side. Qualitative measurement lets us introduce human relationships into the mix. It also gives us a way of improving competency-based education (CBE), which Kamenetz sees as currently too predicated on quantitative measures.

Taken together, I find these views describing a widening ideological divide. Consider the LMS. One side sees that nearly ubiquitous enterprise technology as a useful tool for gathering student data, one which should grow in power and scope over the near future. The other side urges movement away from the LMS in favor of student-owned digital artifacts and web presences.

We could see this divide playing out in how campus IT should support student learning. The pro-data-gathering side would build substantial and probably centralized mechanisms to facilitate tracking and managing student learning, while their opponents would have IT departments help students shape their own, self-directed digital experience.

If I’m correct, this ideological divide may rise to prominence over the near- and medium-term future as we consider campus technology strategies over a variety of issues, from the Internet of Things to mobile devices, ERP evolution and the likely advent of next-generation learning environments. Assessment and data-gathering will be the crux.

Bryan Alexander, Senior Researcher at The New Media Consortium, is a writer, futurist, teacher, speaker, and consultant. For more information about these conversations and discussions on related topics about the future of education and technology, visit: http://bryanalexander.org/category/future-trends-forum/


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