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Little Interest in E-Textbooks Among U. of Iowa Students

An electronic textbook pilot has, once again, reported lukewarm interest among college students -- this time at the University of Iowa. Sponsored by Educause and Internet2, the fall 2012 pilot involved about 600 students across 17 different courses, comparing results of students using e-textbooks from McGraw-Hill Education and Courseload to students in similar courses who used print books. Most students preferred the print books, calling them "easier to access and more useful for learning," and few students used the e-textbooks' bookmarking and note taking features.

Additionally, there was "no significant difference" between the grades earned by students using e-textbooks and those using print books. Sam Van Horne, an assessment coordinator in the Information Technology Services offices, said he and the other researchers were surprised by the lack of interest in the interactive features of e-textbooks.  "One conclusion of the assessment researchers was that instructional designers can scaffold the adoption of e-textbooks and their interactive tools by helping students and instructors both use the technology but also understand how the use of tools can benefit learning," Van Horne said in an email. "The assessment researchers are hoping to design and test such interventions with other users of e-textbooks."

In 2013, Iowa expanded the pilot to include products from Bioportal, Mindtap and CourseSmart. The researchers said they are in the process of analyzing preliminary data.

Essay on how MOOCs can work in a range of countries

A consortium of small colleges and universities in developing nations around the world is collaborating on a multidisciplinary course that delivers many of the merits of MOOCs but also provides experiential education directed at pressing local needs.  The desired result of this pilot is a powerful blend of multidisciplinary scholarly perspectives, global insights from direct interactions with academics around the world, and applied experience such as comes from helping host communities confront barriers to their sustainable development.

Massive open online courses are invaluable sources of knowledge delivered to every corner of every continent. One can hardly overstate the revolutionary and potentially empowering contribution of MOOCs toward human development as they stream information across recently bridged digital divides. However, what’s missing from this Internet-delivered treasure trove is the focused insight and skill that comes from analyzing, understanding, and working on issues of local importance.

MOOCs from major universities in the United States or Britain are necessarily sweeping in scope – and often laced with informative case studies – but they rarely if ever speak to the specific conditions and challenges that a given student experiences every day.  In this respect, MOOCs are geographically generic, lacking the capacity to drill down to the granular details and nuanced elements of a regional issue. So while institutions of higher learning will do well to tap MOOCs for their powerhouse instructors and insightfully articulated content, they should also look to the development needs of their host communities for learning opportunities that provide direct experience, not to mention the rewards that come from confronting, analyzing, understanding, and surmounting a local challenge.

American University of Nigeria (AUN) is trying to reconcile the efficiency of MOOCs in knowledge-sharing with the skill-building experience that comes from community service that is directly tied to local needs. In the pilot course described here, we are introducing a third element, which has an intimate connection with local issues in other parts of the world, not just in reading or videos, but through the receipt of tailored content from and interaction with participating faculty from around the globe.

The subject matter for the pilot course is water; the venues are Africa, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and the United States.  The course, entitled Global Explorations of Water,  is multidisciplinary, exquisitely relevant, and locally originated, albeit from multiple communities. Water is of course supremely important in all the venues, but in different ways that call for a breadth of understanding and versatility of analysis. 

The course grew out of the work of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA), a Great Lakes Colleges Association-based initiative dedicated to supporting liberal arts in higher education and fostering global connections among faculty members in both teaching and research.  For several years, GLAA has hosted workshops that convene professors from many disciplines and countries for training and facilitated interactions.  Last summer’s three-day workshop at the College of Wooster focused on water in the fullest spirit of the liberal arts tradition, with a rich potpourri of lectures, exhibitions, performances and field trips in art, faith, science, policy, technology, and management.  The attendees from the countries listed above spoke to their region’s most pressing issues surrounding water. For instance AUN’s representative described desertification and flooding that arises from deforestation; Forman Christian College’s (Pakistan) attendees discussed agriculture and biofuels.

The faculty member from Earlham College addressed environmental justice in the Great Lakes region. Other colleges brought forth similarly diverse and pertinent issues and perspectives.

The course’s design and delivery is straightforward, requiring no special software. Faculty members select, develop and post their content in one of a number of places on the web, sometimes videotaping classroom lectures and other times simply speaking into their computers and referencing accompanying presentation slides. The online materials are available to students and faculty members at any of the participating institutions.  Several faculty members have taken themselves or their classes into the field, videotaping hilltop mini-lectures, discussions, and interviews with stakeholders on local water issues.

The switchboard for the course is a website that provides basic information and points to the pertinent content on the web, be it faculty-posted materials, TED Talks, or literary readings.

Videoconferencing is another, powerful element of the course. The interactions between African students and faculty from abroad add a dimension that reading or videos never could. For instance, we at AUN have had students briefly describe their assignments to faculty from widely varying disciplines and geographies to receive feedback and perspective that a single local instructor could scarcely offer.

As mentioned above, this fall’s pilot offering is driven by AUN, whose faculty and students post the lion’s share of content. Faculty from other countries and disciplines who participated in the GLAA workshop are also posting content on regional water issues that speaks to their expertise, addresses their local challenges, and tailors itself to the overall themes of the course.

Although AUN students are the only ones participating in this pilot course, the content and lessons learned will be available next spring to the faculty in Pakistan, Lebanon, Bulgaria, and the U.S., as well as a possible sequel at AUN.  It will be the instructors’ prerogative to select among the already available web-posted content, to develop and post their own, and to assign their students the appropriate community-based learning experience. To access this content, the instructor may choose to develop his or her own switchboard website. The instructors will also have the chance to arrange video conferences with their colleagues from afar. Looking forward, Global Explorations of Water will likely become a “cumulative course,” updated each semester with new content while drawing retrospectively on content from earlier offerings. The richer and more diverse this content – and the greater the selection available to a given instructor – the more the course will assume the merits of a MOOC, although never at the expense of local relevance and experiential learning.

Charles C Reith is interim provost and director of sustainability at American University of Nigeria.

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Insructors meet for Global Explorations of Water Management, Culture, Policy and Technology

International Studies Association Tables Blogging Policy

After a surge of protest from its members, the International Studies Association announced Wednesday afternoon that it would table a proposal to ban its journal editors from blogging

Harvey Starr, the association's president, said in an email to the Governing Council of the ISA that he intends to task the Committee on Professional Rights and Responsibilities to explore the "idea of balancing academic freedom and potential conflicts of interests" that blogging present. The committee will spend a year gathering input before making any recommendations at the 2015 annual meeting.

"Along the lines of the ISA Code of Conduct, our aim was to protect academic freedom while fostering civil discourse and freedom to express valid professional evaluations of the work of others in the contemporary world of social media -- and to the issues that can arise with people confusing the personal blogs of the editors of ISA journals with the editorial policies for their journals," Starr wrote. "Clearly, however, this is a far more complex issue, and your voices have been heard."

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New Partnership for Open Educational Resources

In a match seemingly made in open educational resource heaven, the free textbook producer OpenStax College and OER support provider Lumen Learning on Wednesday announced a partnership that aims to save college students $10 million on textbooks by 2015. Lumen Learning helps institutions transition away from traditional course materials, and will use OpenStax College's textbook offerings to bolster its catalog of open resources. The free textbook producer, based at Rice University, has published six textbooks so far and has another seven in the works.

"Lumen is the latest example of a growing coordination amongst philanthropic grantees to further the mission of access in a dynamic way," Richard Baraniuk, the founder of OpenStax College, said in an email. "Greater coordination will fuel a more rapid transition to a more efficient and open market."

International Studies Association proposes to bar editors from blogging

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After the International Studies Association proposes to ban journal editors from blogging, infuriated faculty members take to their blogs.

AACU conference shows plenty of uses for e-portfolios, but also the pitfalls of hype

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Presenters at the Association of American Colleges and Universities' annual meeting see plenty of uses for e-portfolios -- as long as institutions look beyond the hype.

U. of Copenhagen MOOC instructor searches for the right amount of online moderation

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A Coursera MOOC instructor strives to find the right balance between open discussion and moderation after his course turns into "a snakepit of personal venom."

Harvard U. experiments with three versions of the same course

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Students in Harvard University's introductory computer science course face a choice of what they earn upon completion: a certificate, a $350 voucher or academic credit.

Spending Bill Includes Open Access Legislation

Tucked away on page 1,020 of the 1,582-page spending bill winding its way through Congress, Section 527 of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014’’ would make taxpayer funded research publicly available within 12 months of publication.

According to the bill, federal agencies must develop public access policies that provide a "machine-readable version of the author’s final peer-reviewed manuscripts that have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journal." The policy applies to all federal agencies with research and development expenditures exceeding $100 million a year. The proposal resembles that introduced last year by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, although it is not clear how Congress's involvement would affect the rollout of those policies.

The $1.1 trillion bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday, is expected to be signed into law.

U.S. To Release More FAFSA Data, May Open Form To Web Developers

The U.S. Education Department plans to provide guidance counselors and state agencies with more information about students who are filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, Obama administration officials said Wednesday at the department's so-called "Datapalooza" event.

The goal is to boost the rate at which students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, complete the FAFSA.

The department will “responsibly” share data with high school guidance counselors on which of their students have begun the FAFSA so they can work with those students on actually completing the forms, according to a department fact sheet. Department officials will also share that information with state student aid agencies “early” this year, the White House announced separately on Thursday.  

The department is also eyeing the development of a FAFSA Application Program Interface, a set of web protocols that would allow developers to build third-party services and applications that work with the complicated form, which is currently available only through the government’s website, FAFSA.gov.

Officials will soon issue a formal request for information and feedback on how the department might develop feeds (known as application programming interfaces, or APIs) of “key education data, programs and frequently used forms,” including the FAFSA, the department said.

James H. Shelton, the department’s assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, told attendees that a FAFSA API would be useful in expanding the way students, families and others use the form. For instance, he said, the department has talked with KIPP charter schools about how they might be able to submit all of their students’ FAFSA forms at once.

The announcement came at a symposium Wednesday where Obama administration officials highlighted companies, nonprofit and academic groups that have used government data to build products and services aimed at helping students prepare for, apply to, and select a college. The Datapalooza event on Wednesday attracted more than 500 entrepreneurs, software developers and education technology experts.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told attendees that his goal was to reduce the amount of time it takes to obtain degree and promote competency-based education. The administration is currently soliciting ideas on how it should waive federal student aid rules to certain colleges who want to experiment with innovations that will reduce the cost of higher education. 

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