University Responses to Piazza: Some good, some bad, some web site changes

After our reporting from Nov 10 on “Popular Discussion Platform Piazza Getting Pushback For Selling Student Data”, I was invited by Piazza CEO Pooja Sankar to visit the Piazza offices. During my visit, we had an open conversation where I got to meet pretty much the entire staff and have a direct conversation with Sankar and Sunthar Premakumar. After that meeting, Piazza provided a statement that we published in “Piazza Response To Blog Post On Student Privacy”. The statement primarily dealt with a mea culpa from Piazza about working directly with institutions to form agreements around privacy policies and terms of use, including this section:

We are committed to fixing this. In fact we already have started. We have entered into agreements with Georgia Tech and Brown, and have ongoing engagement with Stanford, UBC and UC Davis[1]. In our conversations universities have been very happy with our policies, practice, and compliance. We are fully committed to entering into contracts with universities that protect students, professors, and the institutions including FERPA, accessibility, and more.

I have subsequently had conversations with staff from several of the schools mentioned above to verify the information. Some of the responses were good (as in positive review for Piazza and their willingness to work with the school), some were bad, and in parallel I noticed several web site changes that appear to be related to this reporting and follow-up. Continue reading

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Analytics Literacy is a Major Limiter of Ed Tech Growth

Whatever else you think of the election, it has been the mother of all teachable moments for many of us. It has raised questions about what we thought we knew about our democracy, our neighbors, our media…and apparently learning analytics. The shock of the polls being “wrong” has raised a lot of questions about how much we can really trust data analytics. Audrey Watters has written the most fleshed out critique that I’ve seen so far. But Dave Cormier tweeted about it as well. And I have had several private conversations along these lines. They all raise the question of whether we put too much faith in numerical analysis in general and complex learning analytics in particular. That is an excellent question. But in doing so, some of these arguments position analytics in opposition to narratives. That part is not right. Analytics are narratives. They are stories that we tell, or that machines tell, in order to make meaning out of data points. The problem is that most of us aren’t especially literate in this kind of narrative and don’t know how to critique it well.

This is going to be a wide-ranging post that goes a little lit crit at times and dives into an eclectic collection of topics from election polling to the history of medicine. But even the most pragmatic, b-school-minded entrepreneur or VC may find some value here. Because what I’m ultimately talking about is a fundamental limiter on the future growth of the ed tech industry. The value of learning analytics, and therefore the market for them, will be limited by the data and statistical literacy of those who adopt it. The companies that are focused on developing fancier algorithms are solving the wrong problem—at least for now. These tools will have limited adoption until they are put into the hands of educators who understand their uses and limitations. And we have a long way to go in that department.

Continue reading

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From Cockroaches To Miniature Elephants: Webinars on Not Your Mother’s Old LMS

We just finished the third of our three-part webinar series on“The Modern Learning Platform: Not Your Mother’s Old LMS”, hosted by our friends at NobleStream. In the first discussion, Michael and I laid out our vision for why we are analysts for the LMS market and what we hope to achieve, capped off by Michael’s comment “Depending on how you define it, I have a feeling that, for better or for worse, long after humanity is dead and gone, cockroaches will still be using the LMS.”  In the second discussion, we took the institutional view and had Pat James and Anna Stirling, from the California Community Colleges, talking about how they approached LMS selection and in particular how they focused on the academic and strategic needs first, treating the LMS as plumbing to enable the house to be built. In the third discussion, we took the vendor view and had legendary Ray Henderson take a break from his well-deserved steelhead fishing excursions and describe how vendors understand and manage the LMS vendor selection process. This conversation was capped off by my mention of “the miniature elephant in the room”, where strategically-beneficial LMS decisions are typically made in spite of the RFP process, not because of it.

Michael and I thoroughly enjoyed these discussions and we hope you will, too.

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Recommended Reading: Times Higher Education (THE) Reports on Student Views of Blended Learning

Citing in-house research that surveyed over 100,000 students in the United States, THE reported late last week (see article) that students in exclusively face to face courses and students in exclusively online courses tended to give higher marks to their programs than those students taking blended courses that combine face to face learning with online learning. The report suggests that there is something about the design, implementation or execution of blended learning that is leading to lower overall satisfaction among students across several metrics that were tracked. For those universities pursuing some form of blended learning, and the list is growing every day, the THE report provides a launching point for new conversations around what is working and what isn’t working on their campuses.

Blended learning is in its early stages and measurement and analysis are key factors that can drive improvement. As Mike Sharples, chair in educational technology at the UK’s Open University states in the article, “…the survey results do not show that ‘blended learning is a failure,’ but either that universities do not yet know ‘how to blend properly’ or that ‘there is a difference between what students say they like and what they do better at.” More data is needed, but this is an important conversation to be having.

Snapshot of data from THE article.

Snapshot of data from THE article.

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Webinars: California OEI on institutional view of LMS decisions, Ray Henderson on vendor view

We have now had 2 of our 3 webinars (or colloquiums) with NobleStream organized around “The Modern Learning Platform: Not Your Mother’s Old LMS”. In our first webinar, Howard Weiner from NobleStream interviewed Michael and me about the work we do as consultants and market analysts. Video available here. In the second webinar, we had Pat James, executive director of OEI, and Anna Stirling, director of @ONE training and professional development. OEI is the Online Education Initiative from the California Community Colleges, and @ONE is providing key elements of OEI’s faculty and student support services. This Wednesday (Nov 16th), we have Ray Henderson to discuss the vendor perspective, but more on that at the bottom of this post.

This was a fun discussion with Pat and Anna, as we discussed the LMS decision in context of overall academic strategy, using OEI as a case study. We seemed to end on the metaphor of the LMS as plumbing that needs to be in place to build the house you need. For OEI, the house is the course exchange as well as a shared set of services to help faculty develop online courses throughout the system. Resources, quality rubrics and design support, professional development, support students, etc.

Coming next: we have Ray Henderson as our guest on Wednesday, Nov 16th, at 2pm EST to discuss the vendor perspective. Ray has a long history on the vendor side, working with eCollege, ANGEL, and Blackboard as a top executive, and he current sits on the board of several ed tech companies. This should be a great discussion. Sign up here for the third webinar.

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