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February 2013 Archives

Everyone's talking about developments in educational technology and online learning, particularly in higher education. The movement is sparking animated conversation and raising new questions about our understanding of teaching and learning, and perhaps answering some old questions.

More and more top-ranking universities are offering free online courses through numerous platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udacity and UniversityNow. These consortia are just a few examples of open online education programs, also known as massive online open courses (MOOCs). The New Media Consortium predicted that out of all today's emerging educational technology, MOOCs will have the single greatest impact on higher education in the next five years.

The goal of these online academic courses is to make a high quality education available to all. The format removes barriers such as the cost of attending a renowned university and physical or geographical obstacles faced by would-be students around the world.

The question of how valuable these courses are to the students, and how effectively they teach, is still being debated. Many boast high enrollment rates, but very low rates of completion. Many are not accredited. Some offer certificates of completion, sometimes for a fee.

Enrollment in these courses is unprecedented and traditional college campuses are grappling with the implications of the boom. Talented teachers can reach an exponentially higher number of eager students anywhere in the world. Innovators in the field continue to come up with creative solutions to problems of, for example, grading the coursework of its 100,000 participants. Will these changes render their age-old customs obsolete, replacing the standard university experience?

Traditional institutions do stand to benefit from the volume of data on student performance that the MOOCs and similar programs are gathering, which can inform their teaching methods and provide quantitative evidence of effective teaching practices. The additional technology tools being developed may also have a place in the physical classroom.

Coursera, one of the largest and most popular MOOC providers, offers its users the chance to "take the world's best courses, online, for free." Coursera's co-founder, Daphne Koller, spoke at a TED Conference about the advantages for students who complete the courses: educational institutions may recognize their coursework and award university credit, or a certificate of completion may give a job candidate added value in the eyes of a potential employer.
The technology allows students to more opportunities to personalize their learning experience in a new way. Course participants can play video explanations at their own speed, review difficult concepts by replaying professor's lectures and take as many breaks as they need, without affecting the pace of the rest of the class.

Some elements of traditional courses including a regular class schedule, deadlines and graded assignments, are increasingly used by Coursera's creators. These had often been missing in online academic programs, and Koller says that building such aspects into the course seems to prompt students to take their enrollment more seriously.

Coursera also stresses the importance of active learning by incorporating questions addressed to the class during the videos. Students respond to the practice questions that are checked immediately and provide both instant feedback and retrieval practice. On their own, students have also formed smaller study groups, locally or remotely through online chat rooms and global collaboration across different time zones means help from a fellow classmate is available at any hour. Using these methods for active learning increase student engagement, which studies show is positively correlated with achievement.

An added consideration is that teaching with technology is, by definition, predicated on avoiding technical failures. Even Coursera has not been able to pull it off every time. When courses are so rapidly scaled-up to accommodate enormous numbers of students, their flops have a much larger audience and can attract a lot of attention, as Jill Barshay blogged for The Hechinger Report.

Yet it's hard to argue with Koller's passionate appeal. "If we could offer a top quality education to everyone around the world for free, what would that do?" she asked. "It would establish education as a fundamental human right, where anyone around the world with the ability and the motivation could get the skills that they need to make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities."

She adds that this type of digital learning can continue throughout a lifetime and well beyond one's customary high school or college years, and makes it possible to discover extraordinarily talented individuals in the far corners of the world -- as long as those individuals have a web-enabled electronic device.

A handful of colleges think they've found the secret to closing the gap between the types of graduates they're turning out and the types employers say they need.


Not the hairy, creepy kind. The colleges are using artificial-intelligence spiders that crawl through search engines and read thousands of online "help wanted" ads to check up on the job market in real time -- not two years after the fact, which is how long the federal government can take to report on labor trends.

The technology is helping institutions add and update programs on short notice so their graduates can land real-world jobs. And at the same time, schools are using the new information to eliminate programs that leave students in debt with skills employers don't want.

So far, the use of such technology is limited, but it is likely to increase as colleges and universities face growing pressure to help drive economic recovery and justify the cost of higher education by matching graduates' skills with workforce needs.

"It's not just good enough any more to educate a student," said Elaine Gaertner, director of a system of regional centers that use spidering technology to collect real-time job-market information for California's community colleges. "You have to educate him with a purpose."

Read the full article here.
Reprinted with permission from The Hechinger Report.

New York City parents filed a lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo and Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. for unconstitutionally withholding $250 million in education funding.  The loss of funding is the penalty imposed by Governor Cuomo for the failure of Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers to reach an agreement on teacher evaluations.

Michael Rebell, the attorney for the parents who is known for his successful work with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE), said, "I am outraged that New York City students are being victimized as pawns in a power struggle between the 'grown-ups'.  I think this is a clear violation of the CFE decisions, as well as the due process and equal protection guarantees of the New York State constitution.  We have requested that the law allowing the State to impose this $250 million penalty on our children be declared unconstitutional and invalid, and we are seeking a quick ruling and a preliminary injunction to make that happen."

"Our schools are already underfunded.  Losing $250 million will result in cuts to school programs and academic intervention services for our children," said Jacqueline Colson, a plaintiff, public school parent and member of Community Education Council 25 in Queens.

Read the complete press release from the New York City Parents Union here.

Signifying the growing importance and demand for digital learning strategies in the classroom, nearly 25,000 teachers, millions of students, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, and U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA), are joining the Alliance for Excellent Education tomorrow, February 6, for the second annual Digital Learning Day.

Digital Learning Day is a national campaign that promotes digital learning and spotlights successful instructional technology practice in K-12 public school classrooms across the country.

Educators from across the country will participate in Digital Learning Day by giving interactive digital lessons, collaborating with colleagues over the internet, or simply trying something new with technology in their classrooms. Throughout the day, participating teachers, education leaders, and others can interact with digital teaching experts and each other through a series of live online chats.

In New York, Pine Grove Middle School has taken the lead with digital contests and workshops from January 17th through February 5th.

Tomorrow morning, Secretary Duncan and more than one hundred teachers from the Washington, DC metro area are participating in the teacher demonstrations and interactive lessons, which will be featured via video in the Digital Town Hall.

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