High school and middle school teachers think students' writing is affected by digital tools, for better and for worse, according to a survey led by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Of the 2,462 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers surveyed, 68 percent said digital tools make students more likely to take shortcuts and 48 percent said students are writing too carelessly and quickly. But, at the same time, teachers said students' potential exposure to a broader audience online and the feedback they receive from peers encourage investment in writing and the process of writing. “These results challenge in many ways the notion that students’ writing skills are being undermined by their increasing engagement with digital tools and platforms,” said Kristen Purcell, the associate director for research at the Pew Internet Project. “Teachers do have concerns that digital tools are blurring the lines between formal and informal writing and see writing skills that need improvement, but they also see the benefit of students having more people respond to their writing and the increased opportunities for expression these digital tools offer.”
Blackboard, the classroom software company, may be heading in the right direction, judging from a question and answer session with top executives the company hosted for customers on Thursday.
The unusual ritual at Bb World of subjecting executives to public and not always positive feedback from clients has served as a big griping session for perturbed customers in previous years. The company has lost market share over the last several years, according to annual surveys by the Campus Computing Project, though Blackboard remains the largest provider of learning management systems to American colleges.
This week, clients who stood up to talk to the executives generally tossed aside those overarching gripes as things of the past. Blackboard CEO Jay Bhatt joined the company seven months ago following the departure of Michael Chasen, a co-founder.
Jean Mankoff, the director of learning technology support at Texas Woman's University who has attended 14 of the company's conferences, praised Ray Henderson, who joined the company four years ago. She said the company had lost its collegial feeling for several years until recently.
The company is not without issues, however. Mankoff said the company had too many different product lines and sometimes she feels like she is working with different companies when she tries to purchase each product. That's something Bhatt said he is working to fix. Another user complained a featured in one of the disparate product lines had been neglected.
Another customer complained the software has become so feature-laden that faculty have trouble using it, something Bhatt also said he is working to deal with.
Cengage Learning, Inc., the second largest publisher of higher education course materials in America, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday. The move had been expected by financial analysts.
The company hopes to eliminate about $4 billion of its $5.8 billion in debt, the company said in a statement. The company's chief financial officer, Dean Durbin, blamed the company's woes on the move away from traditional printed textbooks to digital offerings, cuts in government spending since the recession, and piracy of its materials.
In a court filing, he said the company is working on a new business plan and pointed in particular to MindTap, a new cloud-based platform the company has elsewhere described as "more than an e-book and different than a learning management system." The company expects to continue to make timely payments to its vendors and offer the same wages and benefits to its employees, it said in a press release.
“The decisive actions we are taking today will reduce our debt and improve our capital structure to support our long-term business strategy of transitioning from traditional print models to digital educational and research materials," CEO Michael Hansen said in a statement. "Cengage Learning began an operational transformation six months ago under the leadership of our new senior management team, which is executing bold plans to enhance our customer relationships and introduce innovative digital and print products and solutions to meet our customers’ evolving needs."
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law last week to encourage the state's K-12 and higher education systems to use massive open online courses, or MOOCs.
The law has narrower scope than early versions of the bill but its critics remain deeply concerned. An earlier proposal could have allowed anyone to create and seek “Florida-accredited” status for courses that Florida's public colleges and universities would have to granted credit for.
The bill Scott signed allows MOOCs, under certain conditions, to be used to help teach K-12 students in four subjects and also orders Florida education officials to study and set rules that would allow students who have yet to enroll in college to earn transfer credits by taking MOOCs.
Tom Auxter, the president of the 7,000-member United Faculty of Florida, said "intense and feverish" opposition from faculty helped scale back the plan. Still, he warned of a generation of "cheap and dirty" online courses offered to students before they enroll in college. “No matter how many times they use ‘quality,’ this is a cheapening of what higher education is all about,” Auxter warned, referring to supporters of MOOCs for credit.
Republican State Senator Jeff Brandes, who sponsored early versions of the bill, did not give the unions or faculty credit for the changes.
Much remains up in the air now, though. Brandes said he expected the scope of the law to eventually be expanded. Much will also be decided in coming months as state education officials study the issue and set rules about how to use MOOCs for college credit. “We’re giving them two years to set up all the rules and procedures they need to allow us to work with Udacity, or edX or Coursera to offer their wealth of knowledge in Florida,” Brandes said, referring to three MOOC providers.
Dean Florez, a former California state senator who leads the Twenty Million Minds Foundation and generally supports efforts to expand online education, said the Florida law encourages "practices that consider the future of the classroom from the early years into college.”
“Florida has recognized the opportunities inherent in MOOCs and in admirable fashion reached consensus on a bill incorporating all public education systems, from K-12 to higher ed,” he said in a statement.