Making Lab Sections Interactive: More evidence on potential of course redesign

Two weeks ago Michael and I posted an third article on EdSurge that described an encouraging course redesign for STEM gateway courses.

In our e-Literate TV series on personalized learning, we heard several first-hand stories about the power of simple and timely feedback. As described in the New York Times, administrators at the University of California, Davis, became interested in redesigning introductory biology and chemistry courses, because most of the 45 percent of students who dropped out of STEM programs did so by the middle of their second year. These students are the ones who typically take large lecture courses.

The team involved in the course-redesign projects wanted students to both receive more individual attention and to take more responsibility for their learning. To accomplish these goals, the team employed personalized learning practices as a way of making room for more active learning in the classroom. Students used software-based homework to experience much of the content that had previously been delivered in lectures. Faculty redesigned their lecture periods to become interactive discussions.

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College Scorecard: ED quietly adds in 700 missing colleges

It’s worth giving credit where credit is due, and the US Department of Education (ED) has fixed a problem that Russ Poulin and I pointed out where they had previously left ~700 colleges out of the College Scorecard.

When the College Scorecard was announced, Russ noticed a handful of missing schools. When I did the whole data OCD thing, I discovered that more than 700 2-year institutions were missing, including nearly 1-in-4 community colleges. Eventually we published an article in the Washington Post describing this (and other) problems.

The missing community colleges were excluded on purely statistical grounds. If the college granted more certificates (official awards of less than a degree) than degrees in a year, then they were excluded as they were not “primarily degree-granting” institutions. We label this the “Brian Criterion” after the person authoring two discussion board posts that explained this undocumented filter. Continue reading

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Empowering Students in Open Research

Phil and I will be writing a twice-monthly column for the Chronicle’s new Re:Learning section. In my inaugural column, “Muy Loco Parentis,” I write about how schools make data privacy decisions on behalf of the students that the students wouldn’t make for themselves, and that may even be net harmful for the students. In contrast to the ways in which other campus policies have evolved, there is still very much a default paternalistic position regarding data.

But the one example that I didn’t cover in my piece happens to be the one that inspired it in the first place. A few months back at the OpenEd conference, I heard a presentation from CMU’s Norm Bier about that challenges of getting different schools to submit OLI student data to a common database for academic research. Basically, every school that wants to do this has to go through its own IRB process, and every IRB is different. Since the faculty using the OLI products usually aren’t engaged in the research themselves, it generally isn’t worth the hassle to go through this process, so the data doesn’t get submitted and the research doesn’t get done. Note that Pearson and McGraw Hill do not have this problem; if they want to look at student performance in a learning application across various schools, they can. Easily. Something is wrong with this picture. I proposed in Norm’s session that maybe students could be given an option to openly publish their data. Maybe that would get around the restrictions. David Wiley, who does a lot more academic research than I do, seemed to think this wasn’t a crazy idea, so I’ve been gnawing on the problem since then.

I have talked to a bunch of researchers about the idea. The first reaction is often skepticism. IRB is not so easy to circumvent (for good reason). What generally changed their minds was the following thought experiment:

  • Suppose that, in some educational software program, there was a button labeled “Export.” Students could click the button and export their data in some suitably anonymized format. (Yes, yes, it is impossible to fully de-identify data, but let’s posit “reasonably anonymized” as assessed by a community of data scientists.) Would giving students the option to export their data to any server of their choosing trigger the requirement for IRB review? [Answer: No.]
  • Suppose the export button offered a choice to export to CMU’s research server. Would giving students that option trigger the requirement for IRB review? [Answer: Probably not.]

There are two shades of gray here that are complications. First, researchers worry about the data bias that comes from opt in. And the further you lead students down the path toward encouraging them to share their data, such as making sharing the default, the more the uneasiness sets in. Second and relatedly, there is the issue of informed consent. There was a general feeling that, even if you get around IRB review, there is still a strong ethical obligation to do more than just pay lip service to informed consent. You need to really educate students on the potential consequences of sharing their data.

That’s all fair. I don’t claim that there is a silver bullet. But the thought experiment is revealing. Our intuitions, and therefore our policies, about student data privacy are strongly paternalistic in an academic context but shift pretty quickly once the institutional role fades and the student’s individual choice is foregrounded. I think this is an idea worth exploring further.

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LearningStudio and OpenClass End-Of-Life: Pearson is getting out of LMS market

Pearson has notified customers that LearningStudio will be shut down as a standalone LMS over the next 2-3 years. Created from the Pearson acquisition of both eCollege and Fronter, LearningStudio has been targeted primarily at fully-online programs and associated hybrid programs – not for simple augmentation of face-to-face classes. The customer base has mostly included for-profit institutions as well as not-for-profit programs that are often packaged with an online service prover model (e.g. Embanet customers). As of this year, LearningStudio has approximately 110 customers with 1.2 million unique student enrollments.

This decision is not one isolated to LearningStudio, as the end-of-life notification caps a series of moves by Pearson to get out of the LMS market in general. Continue reading

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Blackboard Did What It Said It Would Do. Eventually.

Today we have a prime example of how Blackboard has been failing by not succeeding fast enough. The company issued a press release announcing “availability of new SaaS offerings.” After last year’s BbWorld, I wrote a post about how badly the company was communicating with its customers about important issues. One of the examples I cited was the confusion around their new SaaS offerings versus managed hosting:

What is “Premium SaaS”? Is it managed hosting? Is it private cloud? What does it mean for current managed hosting customers? What we have found is that there doesn’t seem to be complete shared understanding even among the Blackboard management team about what the answers to these questions are.

A week later, (as I wrote at the time), the company acted to clarify the situation. We got some documentation on what the forthcoming SaaS tiers would look like and how they related to existing managed hosting options. Good on them for responding quickly and appropriately to criticism.

Now, half a year after the announcement, the company has released said SaaS offerings. Along with it, they put out an FAQ and a comparison of the tiers. So they said what they were going to do, they did it, and they said what they did. All good. But half a year later?

In my recent post about Blackboard’s new CEO, I wrote,

Ballhaus inherits a company with a number of problems. Their customers are increasingly unhappy with the support they are getting on the current platform, unclear about how they will be affected by future development plans, and unconvinced that Blackboard will deliver a next-generation product in the near future that will be a compelling alternative to the competitors in the market. Schools going out to market for an LMS seem less and less likely to take Blackboard serious as a contender, which is particularly bad news since a significant proportion of those schools are currently Blackboard schools. The losses have been incremental so far, but it feels like we are at an inflection point. The dam is leaking, and it could burst.

Tick-tock tick-tock.

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