Makers of competing learning management systems are coming together to offer prizes to developers for applications that can work across their different products. It's an effort to grow a common "edtech ecosystem." The goal is to spare companies the effort of having to develop every single functionality for themselves. Instead, they can have certain applications that can work across their different products. “I felt for a long time like there aren’t enough integrations and there are too many that are vendor-specific," said Brian Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure, the maker of Canvas. "There’s a lot of lock-in going on.”
Developers will be given $250 for a program that can run in a common language across Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn, and other management systems. Judges will also award $1,000 to developers who come up with the best products.
Several major publishers will experiment with offering free course materials to Coursera users enrolled in the Silicon Valley-based company's massive open online courses. The partnership, which involves Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, SAGE, and Wiley will deliver material using Chegg, a company that offers an e-book platform. According to Coursera, while professors teaching MOOCs on its platform have been able to assign free high-quality content, they will now be able to work with publishers to "provide an even wider variety of carefully curated teaching and learning materials at no cost to the student." Coursera has, however, generated some revenue from the Amazon.com affiliates program wherein users buy books suggested by professors.
Indiana University last year approved -- and then quickly unapproved -- the release of a sex reporting app by its Kinsey Institute, long famous for cutting-edge sex research. Using the app, individuals could report promptly (and anonymously) on their own sexual activities, potentially giving researchers new information on exactly what people do and when and how they do it. The university denied it was being prudish and said it needed only to review privacy protocols. Following months of review, the university announced Wednesday that the app has again been approved for release -- with only one change. That change is that all reports will be placed on hold for geographically defined areas. Only when enough people from a given area respond so that reports could not be linked to any one individual will that information move into the database where it can be studied.
Inside Higher Ed is today releasing a free compilation of articles -- in print-on-demand format -- about massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The articles aren't today's breaking news, but reflect long-term trends and some of the forward-looking thinking of experts on how MOOCs may change higher education. The idea is to provide these materials (both news articles and opinion essays) in one easy-to-read place. Inside Higher Ed will be releasing more such compilations in the months ahead, on a range of topics.
You can find "The MOOC Moment," the debut in this series, here.
And we invite you to participate in a free webinar with Inside Higher Ed's editors to talk about the issues raised in the articles and the latest developments involving MOOCs on Thursday, May 30, at 2 p.m. Eastern. To register, please click here.
Over the past five or six years, as I walked the halls or stepped into the faculty mailroom, copy room, and faculty/staff lounge at the community college where I teach, I have been struck by the noticeable absence of faculty. And I don’t mean part-time faculty, who -- despite making up nearly 70 percent of all community college faculty -- have always been nearly invisible on campus.
I mean full-time faculty. Simply stated, they’re just not around as much anymore.
What’s changed? The growing number of full-time faculty teaching courses offered entirely online.
At my college, several faculty teach entirely online and, other than professional development days, are rarely on campus. More typical is the full-time faculty member who now teaches one, two or three courses of his or her five-course teaching load online. (I myself don’t teach online, for reasons I’ll explain later.) While not completely absent from campus, these faculty aren’t nearly as present as they were when I began teaching 28 years ago.
The connection between teaching online and being off-campus hit home when I asked a friend who teaches full time and entirely online at a community college in Illinois about a department colleague. He replied he hadn’t seen his colleague in a year and thought perhaps he was on medical leave. It turned out that the colleague wasn’t on medical leave, but rather was teaching entirely online. The two never saw each other and were now more like independent contractors than department colleagues.
Whether community college faculty is teaching online effectively and students are learning remains open to debate. In its “Research Overview: What We Know About Online Course Outcomes,” the Community College Research Center reports that ”online course taking was... negatively associated with course persistence and completion”; and that “lower performing students” — the very type of students enrolling in community colleges — fared worse in online courses as compared to face-to-face courses. Faculty who teach online at my college report similar findings.
But it’s not higher attrition rates that worry me about teaching online. What worries me, and what’s not open to debate, is the dwindling presence of faculty on campus, which is particularly troubling for community college students, who now have even fewer opportunities to interact with faculty and students inside and outside the classroom.
Why does faculty presence on campus matter?
Community colleges are typically commuter schools. Students arrive on campus, attend classes (often scheduled two days a week), and leave. Yet research on community college students finds that student engagement with faculty and fellow students inside and outside the classroom is crucial to student retention and academic success. The 2008 Community College Survey of Student Engagement found that “[d]ata consistently show that students are more engaged in the classroom than anywhere else” (my emphasis).
According to Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, “[r]esearch shows that the more actively engaged students are — with college faculty and staff, with other students, and with the subject matter they study — the more likely they are to learn, to stick with their studies, and to attain their academic goals.” The Pearson Foundation’s 2010 Community College Survey found that “[t]wo-thirds of students believe that in order to succeed in community college, it is extremely or very important to have access to academic advisors and to establish relationships with professors.”
It’s not surprising, then, to learn that community colleges that rely heavily on part-time faculty have higher attrition rates and lower graduation rates — part-time faculty have (even) fewer opportunities to engage with students. In short, student engagement with other students and faculty on a community college campus promotes retention and academic success.
One of my students described the importance of classroom-based interaction in a course evaluation. “My mindset was that it was just going to be another English class, and I was not going to try my hardest or get much out of it. I was taking it as a class that I needed to get out of the way for my program of interest. As time went on I realized how into teaching you were and that the people in the classroom really wanted to learn and to get something out of the class. I then decided that maybe I should apply myself and that was the best choice I made the whole semester.”
It’s highly unlikely this student would have had a similar realization in an online course that offered no face-to-face interaction.
When I reflect on my undergraduate education, face-to-face interaction with faculty had profound effects. I can’t imagine James Woodress, my American literature professor, having such a powerful and positive influence on my life, if, as a student at the University of California at Davis, I hadn’t taken his English courses in a classroom, and if I hadn’t gotten to know him inside and outside the classroom. I have watched the poet Gary Snyder on YouTube, and as good and as interesting as that is, it doesn’t compare to the experience of being in a classroom with him.
Community college students often state they take courses online for the sake of convenience and/or because of a harried life -- two reasons accepted without debate -- in order to get done with school as quickly as possible. The course becomes merely an obstacle on the path to accumulating credits.
And community colleges -- driven by convenience, economics, and, ironically enough, the completion agenda -- are quick to respond to “customer demand” by offering more and more online courses.
But instead of promoting an online model of education, community colleges should be doing more to keep faculty and students on campus and to foster a classroom and campus-based culture built upon a sense of academic engagement and community. That may sound outdated and unfashionable, but it’s a model of education that, as research supports, actually increases community college students’ chances of being academically successful.
I will never teach online. As Parker Palmer writes in The Courage to Teach, “I have no wish to learn distanced methods of teaching simply to satisfy students who do not want to relate to me: teaching from afar would violate my own identity and integrity and only worsen the situation.”
I want to be part of an academic community and to teach in a classroom with students whom I get to know so that (as has happened in the past month) when I walk into my local pet store I know the cashier, a current student; or into the pharmacy and I know the tech, a former student; or attend a local concert and I know the musicians, most of whom are former students. I smile every time my wife tells me “we can’t go anywhere without bumping into one of your students.”
To engender that sense of community requires being present on campus and interacting face to face with my students. That’s not possible with the invisible lives of the online world.
Keith Kroll is an instructor in the English department at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
The board of the National Education Association, which represents college faculty members in addition to elementary and secondary school teachers, on Friday approved a new statement on digital learning that is likely to be adopted as official policy for the union by its Representative Assembly in July. The policy, which applies to both K-12 and higher education:
Endorses "hybrid" teaching -- involving both technology and teachers -- as the best approach. "Optimal learning environments should neither be totally technology free, nor should they be totally online and devoid of educator interaction," the statement says.
Calls for teachers to be centrally involved in decisions about how to use technology in classrooms.
Says that "education employees should own the copyright to materials that they create in the course of their employment. There should be an appropriate 'teacher’s exception' to the 'works made for hire' doctrine, pursuant to which works created by education employees in the course of their employment are owned by the employee. This exception should reflect the unique practices and traditions of academia."
Urges policy makers to consider the extent to which increased reliance on technology for learning may exacerbate inequities in the education system.