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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Khan Academy

I remember looking at this Khan Academy some time ago, but just went out and looked at it again. It's a HUGE series of very short tutorials on topics ranging from basic algebra to physics to astronomy to history. . .with some practical information about the current credit crisis, currency, and economics. I discovered that you can actually assign work to your students and then follow what they complete on this site. If you haven't looked at it lately, check it out! I might go back and try to re-learn algebra!

This is particularly interesting in light of the OER project. Sal Kahn has created 1000+ free videos, and he notes that he hopes to add 200+ a year and eventually have "the history of the world" out there!

Check it out at The Kahn Academy.

New job

So tomorrow I start a new job at Colorado Mountain College in their online program.  The last time I started a new job it was because Bob Norden was dying.  What a life change that was.  And how much I still owe him.


What is a college?

McGraw-Hill to Provide English Instruction and Test Prep Through Cellphones in India
January 30, 2011, 10:15 am
By Josh Keller
McGraw-Hill is building a mobile-phone platform to teach English and college test preparation to people in India, which the publisher hopes will help it tap into rapidly expanding cellphone use in emerging markets.
So is this the actual "threat" to traditional colleges and universities?  That the content providers, known as publishers, will take over all aspects of education?  I do think traditional colleges and universities have done a good job of devaluing the role of the professor in teaching by hiring so many adjuncts and/or graduate assistants.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Approval to Operate in All States?

Russ Poulin came to eLCC to talk about new requirements from Washington that will require schools to obtain state approval from every state in which they operate.  Russ has gathered together quite a lot of information and posted it on the WCET blog here:

Because schools don't know where their students are from until they enroll in the college and because the approval processes take time schools are effectively given two options.  They can either obtain approval in all 50 states or they can stop offering classes to students from specific states.  States with small populations will likely see the options of their citizens decrease because the small number of potential students will make it less viable for schools to obtain and maintain approval.  States with challenging of expensive approval processes (such as Massachusetts) will also probably see decreases in the number of colleges and universities offering courses to their citizens.  

I'm having trouble seeing any advantages for students (after all these are all accredited programs already) or schools, but am seeing lots of disadvantages.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

ePublishing Innovatons

Short and less expensive pamphlets are common in traditional publishing, but this is the first I have seen in ePublishing:, plus the title is "The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better"  which is funny and it's by Tyler Cowen, so will probably be interesting. (Marginal Revolution,


Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Try playing with this:


Have you ever. . .

. . .implemented something in a course that you thought would be fun and exciting, only to find that students don't appreciate the concept or the work that went into it? An article titled, "Here We Are Now, Entertain Us," in today's "Faculty Focus" has an interesting perspective. I was especially intrigued by the comment about students not wanting us (as educators) to use Facebook because they view that as "their own thing."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reading List

This new series is on my reading list now:

It's pm strategies for increasing community college students' success.  From the Community College Research Center at Columbia.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Why the Federal OER funds will be wasted - another reason

Well, it was an interesting week in the USA. One in which President Obama pledged in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal to put in place a new directive that a government-wide review of the rules already on the books to "remove outdated regulations that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive." And then just a little later in the week the announcement from the Department of Labor and Department of Education of a potentially groundbreaking program for Community Colleges and Open Educational Resources (OER) - TAACCCT - that contains within it a clear violation of the President's new mandate - namely that something called SCORM - a government controlled and regulated standard that is about ten years behind the industry - be the required format for content developed in the program.

This requirement seriously jeopardizes the success of the TAACCCT program with respect to the content created being easily customizable, reusable, and remixable.

The TAACCCT program invests in the creation of online courses and resources for community colleges to make available to enhance work force development - which is of course very positive. The required use of Creative Commons licensing on the courses in the solicitation is a major potential breakthrough in that regard.

But in the fine print is the requirement to use SCORM - an antiquated content format developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. The SCORM requirement is a ticking time bomb with respect to being able to meet the need to reuse and remix the TAACCCT-created digital courses and resources - which is a key expectation of the program. SCORM will add enormous cost to the creation of the courses and to the platforms that must deliver them. This is a marquee example of over regulation with additional cost and no gain.
I too have tried to work with SCORM objects -- far too much hassle for too little return.  Generally they don't connect to LMS grade books.  They have to go back to a "developer" for revision and updates.  I hate to be so negative, but how many community colleges have SCORM programmers on staff?  I kind of doubt the major publishers need to be worried about this initiative.

Presentations in an LMS

A question on the WCET listserv today sparked a discussion on Powerpoint presentations in LMS's.  My feel is that you can't simply upload the slides from a F2F presentation.  Slides are meant to be used with someone speaking.  If they are good slides they really don't stand alone without the speech that goes with them.  My preference for a presentation with slides is Voice Thread. Voice Thread is very easy to use.  You upload your slides/photos/whatever and then record your speech for each slide.  You can record and re-record until you have it exactly the way you want it to be.  

My kids, on the other hand, really like Prezi.  They love the way you move around in Prezi, that it is a map and not particularly linear.  Unfortunately, you lose the audio again in Prezi, and that means it is text-based.  I prefer pictures, so I need some audio.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

$2B in Federal Funds for OER objects

While I can get excited about this, in general I think it's a lousy idea.   Someone, somewhere is paying for content development.  This move completes the disconnect between the people using the content and the people paying for its development, although I suppose taxpayers are buying it and taxpayers are using it....  sort of anyway.  What a huge increase in the direct intervention of the Federal government into higher education though!   Higher education still costs what it cost before this program, but the information to students is now wrong -- they don't see the costs as clearly as in the past, and neither does society.  That makes it more likely "we" will make the wrong decisions, invest the wrong amount of our resources in the wrong places.

I also wonder about maintenance -- government tends to be pretty good at finding the $$ to build buildings, but is typically lousy at maintenance.  Learning objects and learning resources typically require quite a lot of maintenance.  I am sure someone believes they can build a learning object around say basic algebra and then won't have to touch it again for years and years.  I don't believe that is a realistic assumption though.  Technology changes even if algebra doesn't.  I can't play the original Pac-Man on my laptop anymore even if I wanted to.  Some of the subjects mentioned do change -- biology surely incorporates new information even at lower levels.  Econ wasn't mentioned, but it is taught differently now than it was when I was in school.  Math should be taught via applications, but applications change and need to be updated.

Last, I am a customer of publishers in a different way from the way I am a customer of the government.  I firmly believe even major publishers are more responsive to the needs and wants of their customers than the Federal government.  The government gets my tax dollars whether or not they produce what I want -- the publisher does not.  The profit motive, while much maligned in too many blogs, ensures that publishers listen to their customers.

On the other hand, I think this is the project Darcy Hardy went to Washington to work on.  She should be very good at finding and fixing the problems.

Friday, January 21, 2011

New federal education fund grants $2 billion to create OER resources in community colleges

The Department of Labor and the Department of Education today announced a new education fund that will grant $2 billion to create OER materials for career training programs in community colleges. According to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant Program (TAACCCT) will invest $2 billion over the next four years into grants that will “provide community colleges and other eligible institutions of higher education with funds to expand and improve their ability to deliver education and career training programs.”

I have to think about this over the weekend and blog about it Monday.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Granny Cloud

I wasn't going to post today, but I did my first volunteer session with the Soles and Somes project and then I read Stephen Downes comments and links to another post on "The Granny Cloud".  Erin (daughter) and I both participated in a session this afternoon.  I'm a little uncertain myself about the whole Granny cloud thing and she is definitely not a granny, but we had a good time talking to 3 12 year olds in Bogota, Columbia today.  I'm glad we had Columbians instead of Indians as the children spoke very little English.  Both Erin and I speak a little Spanish - enough to have a getting acquainted sort of conversation.  We got a huge kick out of it and now I am thinking about how I will plan the second session next week.  I think the goal here is to get the children to speak some English.  We did some of that, but need some games or something that will encourage it.


UMBC's "Check My Activity" Tool

While going through my Twitter account (I actually forgot I had one), I found a tweet by Rovy Branon about a pilot project at the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus. The University created a custom software tool and incorporated it into their Blackboard courses that allows students to compare their use of various resources in the course management system with other students' resource use and anonymous grade information. Not surprising, it seems, is the research data that said, "Analysis of 1,461 courses using Blackboard in spring 2010 showed that D and F students used the course management system 47 percent less than students earning a C or higher." (

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New York Times Headlline: In Florida, Virtual Classrooms With No Teachers

This is almost funny -- these classes are actually from the Florida Virtual School, which has some truly wonderful courses, very well-designed, and all taught by actual, live, teachers.  

Hat tip to USDLA via Twitter.


Games and Learning

I know the concept of games and learning has been beaten almost to death, but Donna's post (I love that link) reminded me of a post I read the other day about games, application, and learning.

We learn more effectively when the education has some sort of applicable value to us, when the learning is meaningful. The experience is even more valuable if we actually enjoy the learning process. Games and virtual worlds can help make education more meaningful and fun.
Games and virtual worlds make learning meaningful when students can see the results of their actions. Players are applying their knowledge, so it’s not just learning for the sake of knowing, but putting the learning to use. The feeling of immersion in a game or virtual world can lead the player to a sense of inclusiveness and empowerment, because the player’s actions matter in the game world. The amount of control that the player has in the game world is also correlated with her sense of value. If the player’s actions have little to no bearing on the game’s outcomes, then the sense of meaning is lost.
I haven't seen any good economics games lately (although there was an old "Whack the Economist" patterned after "Whack a Mole" that I got a kick out of and surely allowed my students to blow off some stress).  I used to use an economics jokes website to provide a joke a day for my class -- I actually received lots of positive feedback on that.  This is a reminder that it's time to redo my first assessment finally -- I've been talking about turning it into a scavenger hunt for semesters now.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Other Retention Discussions. . .

Ha ha! I had just the article Lisa mentioned in her previous post about "low tech" methods for improving retention. I found it particularly interesting because I had actually been thinking about giving the phone call concept a try. I just HATE when students simply disappear, and maybe, just maybe, a little bit of personal interaction will help me avoid that mid-semester "guess I'll just go away" mindset. This idea is made more feasible for me by my recent introduction to the G-Mail phone feature. I can call students using this free service and not have to use up my own minutes. . .or divulge my cell phone number. Stay tuned! I'll let you know if I actually make the time to do it AND what kind of response I get.

In this same issue of EQ, an article titled "The Case for Nudge Analytics" had a link to this YouTube video about "the fun theory." This may be an example of someone having far too much time on his/her hands, but I think it's a great example of how we can take something that seems impossibly boring and mundane and turn it into something fun.

Old-School Tools in Student Retention

Interesting article in the Educause Quarterly on using email and the telephone as student retention tools in online courses.  The article is here:

I absolutely agree with the author that one-on-one communication with students via email and especially the telephone can increase student retention.   I wonder how much though and what the ROI is for the instructor and the institution.  Extensive use of the telephone in particular is extremely time-consuming on the part of the instructor.  Email is a little less so because it may be possible to standardize the initial emails, however email conversations that continue on beyond that first communication are necessarily individualized and thus time-consuming.  More important perhaps is the question of pedagogy, one-on-one conversations with individual students exclude the other students in the class -- as the instructor are you required to have the same or similar conversations with all students in the class?  What information or insight is one student receiving that the others are not?  When do you go over the line between building the type of relationship that will keep the student enrolled in the class and giving some students an unfair amount of  information/insight/time? 

Early in the development of online teaching practices instructors moved to the threaded discussion area as the replacement for the face-to-face classroom discussions.  All of the students in a class could see the discussions and everyone was able to participate.  There is inevitably some distance created by the medium of the threaded discussion, for every student who loves the distance because they get to think about their answers before typing them in, there is at least one who does not feel a part of a learning community and does not feel a responsibility to the class because of that distance.  

The telephone might solve some of that initial distance problem. An phone call at the beginning of the term (perhaps not required) might draw in some of the students who would otherwise gradually drop out of the class.  It might give them a sense of belonging and responsibility towards the class, keep them involved, and help them complete the course successfully.  

I have a role as faculty and also a role as administrator.  As both I worry about how much time we can expect adjunct faculty to invest in a class, given the pay rates.  As administrator I then wonder if any of this one-on-one interaction with students can be shared with student services.  Is the telephone as effective when the call comes from student services or even from a vendor?  What if we looked at class data and chose who to call and when based on something like number or schedule of logins or another class participation measure? 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Learning to Learn

Long discussion with my dressage instructor about horses learning how to learn. Some of them do figure out the learning concept and they do some fairly impressing analysis, especially when they are back in the pasture for the evening.  This week we spent a few minutes teaching Gracie how to come to the whip instead of move away from it.  Weird concept, but she got it as soon as we applied treats to the problem.  Then the next day when I asked it was there immediately.  She had clearly thought about it overnight.  She has thought her way through the idea of Piaffe and, while she finds it ridiculous, she is willing to give it a try.

My other mare just shuts down if you ask her to try something new that she thinks is too difficult.  You then have to go back to something she finds easy and build up to the new thing very slowly and from another direction.  I am pretty sure there is a teaching lesson in both those horses.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Student Retention

Rhonda Epper thinks the hottest issue of the next couple of years will be student retention and I tend to agree with her.   It's great that we are getting students into our classes, but if they are going to graduate they need to complete them successfully.

The new issue of Educause Quarterly is focused on student retention.  More here as I actually read the articles.



How many times have you listened to an instructor diatrabe on the evils of Wikipedia?  And how many times have you used Wikipedia as a quick start to a research project or to look up some oddball fact?  Really, Wikipedia is here and we all use it.  Sure, there are factual errors, but on average it's pretty good.  (And there are factual errors in peer reviewed studies and documents also.)  A few mistakes are not a valid reason to throw the whole thing out.  What they are a valid reason for is teaching our students how best to use Wikipedia.  And that's not a lot different from teaching our students how to use any encyclopedia.  It's not peer-reviewed and it's not a primary source. You go there to get a good overview and to look at the citations.

Casper Grathwohl, the author of this article says it much better than I do:


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Soles and Somes and Learning without Frontiers

I started this morning on Skype with Suneeta Kulkarni of Soles and Somes -   This group sets up Self Organized Learning Centers (Soles) in locations in India and now in Columbia for children.  Soles and Somes originated with Sugata Mitra's Hole in the Wall experiments where he placed  a computer with internet access in an exterior wall where children would have access to it.  The children were able to teach themselves to use the computer and the internet and to learn what they felt they needed to learn.  The new organization is placing computers with internet access in schools in various locations in India and Columbia.  They also use volunteer mediators to work with the children via Skype.  It is a wonderful way to bring groups together across national boundaries to facilitate learning. Wow!

Suneeta also mentioned the Learning without Frontiers organization.  I wandered over there to check out their blog -  Today's post is on the iPad, education, and mobile learning.  It fit nicely with the prediction Ellen Wagner has for this year (, only LWF is more positive about mobile solutions being here already.

I am still waiting for iPad 2 bcz I want the front camera so I can Skype.  When oh when will it arrive?????


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Univ. of Phoenix sees drop in new enrollments

Today's article:

Student enrollment at University of Phoenix parent Apollo Group nose-dived 42 percent in the three months that ended Dec. 30, and on Monday investors learned that company executives believe it is only the beginning.
The Phoenix-based company expects those figures to fall as much as another 40 percent next quarter, and Apollo could continue to see steep declines for the rest of the year, executives said.
Overall enrollment fell 3.8 percent, compared with a year earlier, to 438,100.

The headline is misleading -- the drop is in new student enrollment.  Overall enrollment has dropped also though -- 3.8%.   A drop in new student enrollment was expected.  UoP had promised to change recruiting practices and it looks like they really have.  Unfortunately they needed to combine that with better retention practices and they apparently haven't done that.


Innovation and Open Content

The innovation discussion was hot on Twitter yesterday and in to today.  Apparently quite of few innovators believe they have been burned by the status quo.  The good news is that they are all going to leave the system for the world of entrepreneurs - and new businesses typically lead the way out of recessions in this country.

Fascinating article in the Chronicle on how Washington State is attempting to build 80 plus community college level courses using open content.  (  Their plan is to charge students $30 for use of the content.  I think that might be a maintenance price - I love the idea of open content, but the open content courses require a lot more maintenance than the publisher provided courses.  Or maybe not, maybe we are just changing who does the maintenance.  The $30 will need to go to whomever is providing that maintenance (faculty I assume) to keep the courses updated, current, and the links live.  They will also need to have an assigned person to handle emergencies -- what happens when a critical source disappears mid-semester?   Unfortunately that happens with some degree of regularity.

MITE/NROC (  was founded a few years ago with a similar goal and discovered that there really wasn't all that much high end, multi-media-based open content available.  They are now creating high-end managed-source content.  I wonder if anyone in Washington State actually tried to build a course or two before coming up with this plan?  Again, not that it isn't a great idea, but someone has to create all of this content, pull it together into flexible courses, and then maintain it.  That's a very large and complex project. I wish them luck and I'd really like to help!

Here is my cynical side thinking out loud though -- colleges and universities are happy to talk about the high cost of textbooks and how continuous revisions that aren't really revisions are costing students much more than they need to pay.  But really, the cost of textbooks pales next to the cost of tuition and even room and board.  If our students paid a few thousand dollars less for tuition they could afford those expensive textbooks with all the nice ancillary materials and interactive technologies.  Tuition is a university issue though and not something that can be easily blamed on the publishers.

Monday, January 10, 2011


I thought this was interesting: (Hat tip to Ellen Wagner)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Why innovation makes executives uncomfortable

I've been working in the "innovation field" for over seven years as a consultant, and I did regular "innovation" work for a number of years previously, so it is with a bit of chagrin that I come clean on the fact that it finally occurred to me why innovation makes many executives uncomfortable.  I think if you are constantly reinforcing a belief system (innovation is good!) that it can be very hard to get a different perspective, and even understand why that other perspective exists.  So for years I have labored under the assumption that others saw innovation as a valuable capability and commodity, just as I did.