Technology

As ed-tech companies gather more data, they struggle to find its best uses

Tech companies, with more data than ever before, struggle with strategic and ethical issues about using that information.

Pulse podcast features interview about StudyTree, mobile academic assistant

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This month’s episode of the Pulse podcast features an interview with Ethan Keiser, founder and CEO of StudyTree.

In the discussion with the host Rodney B. Murray, Keiser talks about how the app -- which the company calls a "personal assistant" focused on students' academic performance -- uses artificial intelligence to analyze students’ grades and behavioral patterns to construct customized recommendations.

The benefits of a horizontal approach to open educational resources (essay)

As a longtime advocate of open educational resources, I’ve read with great interest recent views and discussions about the different approaches to funding such resources, which offer free alternatives to textbook and other instructional materials that students have traditionally had to pay for.

One issue of debate involves “vertical” versus “horizontal” funding models and whether the OER community should continue investing in the less flashy horizontal funding initiatives in particular. In a horizontal funding model, funders support the creation of textbooks for high-enrollment courses and subject areas. In contrast, when taking the vertical approach, an institution focuses on building up OER for a single degree program.

OpenStax, founded in 2012, is proud that over 3.5 million students have used a free OpenStax textbook, and we’re continuing to grow. We owe our success, in part, to the generous foundations that have recognized the need for OER and have provided seed money to help our OER get off the ground and up to scale. Since OpenStax has used horizontal funding and seen exponential growth in users and impact, we tend to agree with those who champion it. But we’ve found that one funding model can often enable another, and that developing an either-or mind-set for funding is ultimately unhelpful. Since launching five years ago, OpenStax has chosen to publish open textbooks that meet standard scope and sequence requirements for the highest enrollment courses, such as calculus, psychology and American history. That approach reaches the most students in the quickest way possible and builds momentum for more OER use on a campus.

The results generated from using seed money in a horizontal approach are compelling in how they illustrate current impact and potential impact. Institutions are using more and more OpenStax textbooks -- as many as 15 on a single campus. With increasing demand for OER materials, the number of colleges and universities with higher textbook adoption numbers will inevitably grow.

Those of us in the OER community know that the horizontal approach to scaling works. Foundations and institutions have been supporting a horizontal approach for years with much success -- to date, OpenStax has saved students $340 million. Furthermore, the quality and breadth of the resources generated through a horizontal approach also provide the basis for continued innovation in OER, such as degree initiatives that would require a different kind of funding approach: the vertical model.

Much buzz surrounds this approach to funding, spreading and scaling OER. One notable example came a year ago, when 38 community colleges grabbed headlines with their announcement about an initiative to create two-year degree programs that would use only OER. These zero-textbook-cost degree programs (or z-degree programs) focus on enabling students to complete an entire degree track without spending money on textbooks as well as on empowering faculty members to create and curate course materials.

While vertical programs provide different opportunities for OER use and creation, the materials generated through the funding of horizontal programs are the cornerstone of future OER development. The promise of OER is that faculty members can have the freedom to access, reuse, remix, adapt and redistribute content without having to request permission. But faculty members are busy people, and it takes a lot of time to develop a course, especially if you are starting from scratch. Introductory and widely used content supported by horizontal programs frees faculty members to devote time to content development for higher-level courses, niche courses or courses specific to their institution -- content ideal for vertical initiatives.

Successful horizontal initiatives provide the conditions for successful vertical initiatives. That is why OER producers exist; that is why OpenStax has a steadily growing user base. And that is why it’s important that the OER community continues to support, cultivate and leverage the tremendously effective and proven horizontal approach to funding and content creation.

Daniel Williamson is managing director at OpenStax, developing education start-ups from conception to culmination, with specialties in open education, content development, ed tech, consumer intelligence, management and quality assurance.

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MIT introduces digital diplomas

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Some of the technology institute’s graduates can now choose to receive secure virtual credentials protected by block-chain technology.

Experts consider significance of Apple's deal with Ohio State

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After years of deals for devices, the tech giant’s arrangement with Ohio State suggests a greater willingness to focus on student learning.

Pulse podcast features discussion of the road map for Blackboard Learn

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This month’s edition of the Pulse podcast features an interview with Jim Chalex, vice president of product management at Blackboard.

In the conversation with host Rodney B. Murray, Chalex discusses the company’s plans for Blackboard Learn and its learning platform, amid other topics.

Could college messaging app Islands be the new Yik Yak?

Islands app gains traction as it expands base of colleges. Its founder says he learned from the controversial (and defunct) Yik Yak, but the new app gives users ability to post anonymously -- a trait many believe was at the root of why Yik Yak caused so many problems on campuses.

IT productivity paradox in higher education ‘overstated,’ study suggests

Study finds that technology spending spurs gains in colleges’ outputs -- but they vary depending on the institution.

UT Austin launches Stampede2, the fastest U.S. university supercomputer

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The University of Texas at Austin has unveiled Stampede2, said to be the most powerful supercomputer at any campus in the U.S.

National U experiment combines multiple pieces of personalized learning

A $20 million project from National U seeks to combine adaptive courseware, predictive analytics and competency-based learning with a goal of better serving adult students.

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