Cool Tool | eTextbooks from Amazon

CREDIT Amazon eTextbookFor those of us who went through college lugging textbooks around campus, there is now a better way: eTextbooks from Amazon. Students can take their entire library on their mobile devices by using the free Kindle reading app (available on iOS, Android, PC, Mac). Whether students have a laptop, iPad, smartphone, or Fire tablet, their eTextbook and digital notes and highlights can read across all of their devices. A student can start reading on their laptop and finish on their tablet with Whispersync technology that enables them to pick up where they left off. eTextbooks from Amazon also come equipped with interactive features from multi-colored highlighting, X-Ray that displays summaries of key concepts in a single tap, including other related content in the book and Wikipedia or YouTube content, to digital flash cards. Titles with X-Ray enable students to auto-generate flash cards of a chapter’s terms without ever having to pick up an index card or turn a page. Students carry less, save time and study smarter. Learn more

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Slaying the Status Quo

Driving engagement and success for a new generation of students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Frances Cairns

CREDIT CampusQuadBuilding a campus environment where everyone has access to important university services, programs and events is a critical part of driving student engagement and success. In working with campuses throughout North America over the past several months, I have observed a few common themes that weigh heavy on Student Affairs: How do I get students more involved? How do I know the services my team is providing hits the mark? Are we providing a supportive campus environment that helps students move toward gaining the experience they need beyond the classroom to land a good job and kick off a great career?

That powerful hand-held, always-on computer is the way students explore, navigate, learn and, above all, connect to each other and what’s happening around them.

Currently, there’s no single solution that solves what has taken several decades of habit to build in terms of the student services approach from matriculation to graduation. Further, universities are spending more than a third or better of their budget supporting activities and facilities that are beyond the classroom yet they don’t have an accurate success benchmark. While tools exist for the academic side of the house, there’s very little in the realm of co-curricular assessment that can truly inspire a Student Affairs leader to take the risk of changing up the way they deliver student services programs.

The simple truth is that the student engagement lifecycle is broken and the gap will continue to widen as the next wave of students – Gen Z – lands. These students come to campus in a world where the real and the virtual collide on their phone. That powerful hand-held, always-on computer is the way students explore, navigate, learn and, above all, connect to each other and what’s happening around them.

The startling reality is that most universities have yet to meet their students on the mobile phone. They remain entrenched in legacy web systems that don’t translate well to delivering the right information to the right student at the right time.

So how do administrators get the know-how and the courage to change the status quo and move their staff from outdated habits and empower them to become experts in delivering student services to a new generation of students? The good news is you don’t have to be a hero, take major risks or hire a new staff. Substantive change in student services practice starts with learning on a very practical level what will help students have a transformative learning experience.

To get you started thinking about how to improve your student satisfaction and success, here are some strategic steps that we have identified along with the help of Student Affairs practitioners:

  1. Personalize the student mobile experience. The mobile phone is a very powerful PERSONAL computer that enables students to navigate their world as it unfolds – in real-time. Begin your university’s student experience where they spend 8 hours and 115+ taps a day. Students want access to information beyond bus schedules and directory services. They want to know about campus services, upcoming events, clubs or groups to join, and what’s trending on campus. Beyond that, they want to explore and connect to their interests. That requires technology that centralizes campus content and offers sophisticated search capabilities so students can see what’s happening anywhere, anytime campus-wide. Delivering this as a mobile-first solution empowers students to create a personalized stream of information that keeps them connected to each other and their surroundings 24/7
  1. Unify information access. Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have made it easy for students to find unified streams of information regarding friends, answers to questions, navigation, and news. Campuses, on the other hand, are still deep valleys of misinformation due to fragmented sources scattered across disparate parts of the campus with critical information that never makes it to the student. Start by creating a single source of information flow where a student discovers, consumes and engages with university information and services in REAL-time via their phone.
  1. Provide always-accessible self-service. Students are used to accessing information 24/7 from chat support to Google search to get the answers they need to engage. Search is the No. 1 way students find campus information but this method can only provide information that is easily gathered from web crawlers. Universities need state-of-the art search tools to enable students to access content like directories, class info and event data that is not available via external sources. It’s important to create and cull data from across desperate campus sources and serve up critical information to students that ONLY a campus can provide. A student in need of career services, health care, or an RA won’t find what they need on Google, or a poster on the quad, or even an email. They will only find meaningful ways to connect to services if you make it easy to search for information that is exclusive to your campus.
  1. Support here and now learning. Students don’t plan ahead more than a day – or maybe a week if you’re lucky. Universities, however, still deliver centralized calendars with month-long views. Students simply don’t find this useful. A mobile solution enables you to offer students the opportunity to engage in your campus in real-time with access to fresh content by time, interest, and location. Make it easy for students to see into the depths of your campus events, programs and services by surfacing them in context. This offers students the opportunity to engage beyond their traditional spheres of influence and expand their access to the campus.
  1. Automate engagement. Time management for co-curricular activities is critical to not only engage students once, but keeping them engaged on an ongoing basis. Use technology to enable students to see who is attending an event, then build momentum. Make it simple for them to publish print-free directly from their phone to the entire campus community. Leverage the power of mobile to measure student participation, interest and ratings of campus services.

Be the agent of mobile transformation and behavioral change on your campus and create the supportive campus environment that fuels exploration, discovery and engagement for today’s and tomorrow’s students. Slay the status quo.

Frances has extensive education and technology background from leading higher education divisions at Macromedia, Dell and Apple, where she helped launch iTunesU. Prior to her high tech career, Frances held administrator posts at four universities, including: University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Western Michigan and University of Findlay. During her academic tenure, Frances was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and principal investigator for $10 million in federal and private grants. Frances serves on the Board of Directors of Querium and the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education. She has a B.A. in History from the University of Findlay and M.A. in Education from Bowling Green State University.

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The Future of Learning is in Reach

Analytics can help you shop, watch and eat smarter – but what will it do for education?

GUEST COLUMN | by John Baker

CREDIT D2L analytics arrowsIn many ways, one could argue, the future of learning is in reach. Education models have evolved to offer increased assessment options that can measure learning with more precision and provide immediate feedback; while traditional lecture formats can be replaced by more interactive, engaging and participatory forms of learning. In adopting these new methods, educators have also gained the ability to collect an enormous amount of student data, such as how long a video was watched, whether students took part in collaborative exercises, or which hurdles students had a tough time overcoming or summaries of questions that were asked.

Analytics are helping educators personalize learning experiences for individual learners in a way that we have never seen before, giving instructors an objective, data-driven view of student success.

This data, across courses and whole programs, is the game-changing element to the future of education. Think about how companies such as Amazon or Netflix use data – they use it as the basis for their personalized suggestions. The more data, the better their suggestions become. Wearable wellness technologies, such as the FitBit, compile data about your personal activity, food, weight and sleep, offering insight into how your body operates daily to produce actionable analysis on how you can improve your health.

In much the same way, educational data can be brought together by analysis and used to better personalize and improve the learning experience for all. In this case, however, instead of making sure you have a good movie for Saturday night, the analysis of educational data has the long-term potential to make a huge impact on society.

Better Understand and Reach Students

Analytics provides teachers with the critical ability to identify students struggling with the curriculum that need additional help, while also identifying learners that require supplemental materials to help them with enrichment to reach their full potential. Data analysis provides a clear link between students’ actions and outcomes – and using this data to better understand the link empowers educators to become better problem solvers.

Used properly, analytics can provide educators with insights into their students’ current and future performance and empower them with the ability to scale teaching methods to guide each student to improve and reach their full potential.

Think of it this way – there could be a myriad of reasons why a normally high-performing student starts to show signs of disengagement from working on a project with an online peer group. An analytics solution would alert the instructor in advance, giving them the opportunity to address and correct the issue before the behavior has too much of an impact on learning. Great teachers do this today in the classroom, but automating some of the work to get students back on track with the right intervention can free teachers to do more important activities to engage their students.

A longtime criticism of the traditional education system is that teachers spend most of their time with only a specific segment of the class – sometimes teaching to the top of the class or bottom – and this leaves other students without personalized attention to help them reach their full potential. My parents are both amazing teachers, but even they’d agree that personalizing education to the individual student with the traditional model is not possible.

Analytics can inform a teacher on performance that matters to improve their own teaching resources. For instance, if instructors review statistics and results data, they will see which questions on a quiz need to be fixed for the next time the quiz is offered, or which lessons are not engaging students and helping them achieve the learning required. If teachers look at engagement levels, interaction occurrences and learning outcomes, they’ll better understand which methods students best respond to.

This feedback loop is essential to teachers looking to refine or improve their approach.

Academy Online High School: Analytics that Work

One institution successfully employing analytics is Academy Online High School (AOHS), a Colorado school that teaches exclusively online and specializes in educating students who might never have finished high school otherwise. With a clear mandate from the state of Colorado that students at each grade level be prepared to enter the workforce or pursue higher education, in 2009 AOHS decided to use analytics technology to predict where each student might encounter problems.

The results were then customized to give the school an easy graphical indication of each student’s success or failings, compared against state standards. From there, teachers were able to trend learner performance, identifying potential learner problems before they occurred and enabling them to plan for remediation or intervention.

AOHS’ use of analytics technology allows its teachers to move beyond simple grade or point calculations and empowers them to work with and evaluate students in a more precise and meaningful way. In addition, students at AOHS have proven to be more vested in their own success when they understand what their learning goals are and can visually track their progress against those goals, throughout the semester.

In all, the program has seen tremendous success. Over the past year, AOHS has reduced its failure rate by 36% and several students and age groups are testing higher then their offline counterparts – proving that analytics is already having a positive effect on education and outcomes in Colorado for students who might never have finished high school. I get excited imagining the future as this rolls out to all students and not just the ones struggling.

Analytics are the Key to a Brighter Future

Analytics are helping educators personalize learning experiences for individual learners in a way that we have never seen before, giving instructors an objective, data-driven view of student success. Learner achievement has to and will remain a top priority for all educators.

With analytics’ ability to pinpoint areas for educational enrichment, encouragement or intervention – not just what book you might like to read next – each student now has his or her best chance to achieve their full potential.

John Baker is the President and CEO of D2L Corporation. John founded D2L in 1999, at the age of twenty-two, while attending the University of Waterloo as a Systems Design Engineering student. He graduated from the University of Waterloo with an Honors B.A.Sc. in Systems Design Engineering, with First Class Honors and an option in Management Sciences.

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Students Crash-land on Mars

Using the RITE method to learn: testing the Mars game prototype. [i]

GUEST COLUMN | by Barbara Freeman

CREDIT Barbara FreemanThe purpose of the Mars Game project is to build a game that is ‘fun’ (meaning that it is immersive and that students want to play it), and to evaluate the potential of a digital learning game to effectively teach STEM content. This is the first in a series of research studies in which we are testing the Mars game with ninth and tenth grade students for whom the game is intended.

One student captured the reason so many game designers and researchers want to prove that aspects of gaming can enhance learning.

The gameplay takes students and transports them to Mars, where they crash land on the inhospitable planet where they need to work through a series of programming and mathematical challenges to stay alive. The math challenges are derived from the Common Core State Standards.

In this formative study, we tested the Mars game prototype to understand students’ initial reactions, to see if the developers were on the right track, and to make modifications to the game that would improve students’ experience moving forward. We used the RITE (Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation) Method[ii], a form of usability testing in which the researchers and the game developers work collaboratively with the end-users to identify problems and then work together to make rapid iterative changes to the game and confirm the effectiveness of those changes through further testing with a different set of students. Fifteen students of diverse backgrounds participated in the study. Students completed two levels of the game and were asked to think aloud as they played to describe their experience. Eighty percent of the issues were identified within the first day of testing. With the game developers working late into the night and early morning they were able to make rapid changes to the game, which were put before a different set of students to understand if these initial fixes resolved the problems that the students identified. This intense cycle of testing, fixing, and validating was repeated over five days.

By jointly working through the RITE process, the researchers and developers gained a shared understanding of the major issues and prioritized the changes that needed to be made to eliminate the “game stoppers” (so to speak). Most importantly, an analysis of the surveys[iii] that students were asked to complete showed students’ ease of using the Mars Game going up and their frustration going down over the course of the week. We also garnered initial evidence that showed the power of engagement with learning that emanates from gameplay. Even on day one, as students struggled to figure out how to use Blockly—Google’s visual programming language—to navigate the Mars terrain and the challenges of repairing a crashed spacecraft, the game could be seen to exert its magic. Once the tasks were mastered, students asked if there were more levels that they could play.

The magic appears to result from the problem-solving pull of the game with its embedded instructional challenges. Even though math and programming concepts are embedded in the game mechanics, some students said, “(the game) didn’t feel like math.” We think that’s a good thing, because the game is able to present concepts to students in a manner that is not intimidating to students.

For many, this was the first time that they had written a computer program, and they didn’t even realize that this was what they were doing. They were surprised and delighted when we pointed out to them that they had written their first ever program to get the rover to move during play.

One student captured the reason so many game designers and researchers want to prove that aspects of gaming can enhance learning: “at first you struggle, it is confusing, so you play around and get closer and closer to your goal and it makes you want to try again and again, and then you get it and you are happy.”

Our observations indicate that the experience was most intense for those students who were working within their zone of proximal development[iv], while those students who already understood the game’s content were least absorbed. We also learned that it did not take much to jolt students out of their immersion in the game environment. For example, many students withdrew when they heard the game voiceover mention the word “function.”

We came to understand that our mandate as game researchers and developers was to find a judicious balance that provides adequate supports without weakening the problem-solving pull of the game or students’ immersion in the virtual world. The game provides students with an experience that requires them to solve difficult yet tractable problems. Students work through the game’s challenges through exploration and experimentation, often collaboratively or with hints provided by the game, but without anybody explicitly telling them what to do. Through the process of solving these problems, students come to more deeply understand the material.

The fun is there: It lies in the problem-solving challenge; in the “aha” moment when students realize that they were actually coding. Next we will tell them they were also learning math!

[i] Barbara Freeman, Kevin Dill, Leslye Arsht, Kevin Oden, Mark Torpey, & Juan Benito

[ii] Medlock, M.C. Wixon, D., Terrano, M., & Romero, R. (2002). Using the RITE Method to improve products: A definition and a case study. Usability Professionals Association. Orlando, FL.

[iii] Surveys included a student self-assessment, the NASA Task Load Index, and the System Usability Scale.

[iv] Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Barbara Freeman, Ph.D., is the principal research investigator on the Mars Game project, which was funded by the Advanced Distributed Learning Colab of the Department of Defense. She is a consultant and visiting scholar at U.C. Berkeley, and has over 25 years of domestic and international experience in technology, education, research and development, analytics, and risk management, and has established businesses and products for Blue Chip clients and government agencies globally. This article was co-authored by other members of the RITE research and development team, Kevin Dill (chief developer), Leslye Arsht, Kevin Oden, Mark Torpey, and Juan Benito.

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Trends | Music as a Teaching Tool

When you think of a classroom singing a song together, you probably envision a kindergarten class learning the alphabet or counting. But a new generation of classroom songs has arrived, and this time they’re helping older students learn difficult topics or concepts in math, English and just about any other subject you can think of. Through videos, interactive games, and online courses, teachers are integrating songs and music in general directly into their lessons and classroom activities, giving students the chance to join in. By using a song as an introduction to a new topic or to support the understanding of various topics being discussed in class, students are able to familiarize themselves with the relevant terminology and concepts in an easily, memorable way. Since most of today’s digital natives grew up learning through catchy YouTube videos or watching cartoons on their parent’s iPads, even older students are comfortable with musical lessons. For example, the song above, “Mean Median and Mode”, pulled from a course offered through Learning Upgrade’s online curriculum, is often used by math teachers to introduce basic measures of center to a class. It can keep students more engaged than a traditional lecture, and embeds the melody (and the facts) in their minds so they’ll continue to think with it long after they’ve left the classroom. Try it out for yourself, above.

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