Personalized Learning at Law Schools

I recently had the honor of speaking at the CALI (Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) conference. I was invited by one of my early heroes, John Mayer. When I first arrived on the ed tech blogging scene, John was already here, doing stuff. He inspired me.

Anyway, you may or may not know that law schools are currently experiencing an enrollment crisis. As a result, they are accepting students who are below their normal standards. These students are, unsurprisingly, not doing as well (on average) as their predecessors. So I ask the question: Is the problem that the students are “worse,” or is it that nobody is actually teaching law school students, and that the ones being admitted could succeed if only somebody taught them?

Here’s the video of the keynote, if you’re interested:

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We’re Giving a Course on Personalized Learning Next Month

Working with our good friends at ELI, we’re going to be offering a three-session synchronous course called Personalized Learning: Finding the Model That Fits Your Institution July 6th through 20th. As you know, we’re still in early days for personalized learning. Most campus communities are still trying to figure out what it is and what it’s good for—if they’re aware of it at all as a group. Plus, one size most emphatically does not fit all. The goal of the course is to help participants sharpen their own ideas for appropriate ways to facilitate exploration of the topic at their own institutions.

The format will be highly participatory, especially in the second and third sessions. Phil and I expect that we will all learn a lot from each other.

Join us!

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SmartSite Goes Dumb: A student’s view of the UC Davis LMS outage

[ed. Cydney Jones is a junior at UC Davis, and she was kind enough to share information and insights during my coverage of the UC Davis LMS outage (their Sakai-based LMS is branded as SmartSite and hosted by Scriba). I asked her if she could write a post giving a student’s inside view of the situation. You can follow Cydney on Twitter at @crabbyCyd.]

By: Cydney Jones

UC Davis’ SmartSite, the learning management system we love to hate, earned that hate when it went missing two weeks before the end of the Spring quarter. As used and abused by students and faculty, SmartSite is accessed constantly. Need to read new class materials, log into SmartSite. Want to learn about assignments and turn them in, access SmartSite. Curious about your grade, look it up on SmartSite. Accessible from anywhere, on campus or off, via smartphone or computer terminal, SmartSite was the glue that held most courses together.

It seemed odd that something so integral to every class and course would need to go down for maintenance in the middle of the term for more than two and a half days. But, the UCD IT department shared their communication from our LMS’s host, Scriba, saying that the system had suffered “failures in our primary data center.” It seemed odd that we were only give a day’s notice. We should have been more prepared, students, faculty, and administration alike. Continue reading

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Update on UC Davis LMS Fiasco: Finishing the term with two partial systems

After the LMS outage that started May 20th – covered here, here, and here at e-Literate – UC Davis has finished its spring academic term as of June 9th using two partial systems, one for faculty and one for students and neither of which is fully functional. In other words, UC Davis never fully recovered its LMS (Sakai system branded as SmartSite) functionality from the outage. UC Davis staff have indicated they will provide more information to us by interviews and public records, but they have not said when they will be ready to talk. Scriba (the Sakai commercial affiliate and hosting provider that caused the outage) has not replied to requests for an interview or statement. When and if these occur, I’ll post updates.

For a short timeline:

  • May 19th: Scriba notifies UC Davis of an emergency maintenance planned for May 20 – 23 as they changed data centers. Regarding the data center move, CEO Michael Sanders stated “The failures are as of a result of a third party and are outside of our control.” (irony alert inserted here)
  • Continue reading

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Adaptive Learning Fails to Make the Grade. Or Does It?!

My latest Chronicle column is up. It analyzes the results of the SRI Education study of the Gates Foundation adaptive learning grantees, some of which we’ve covered in our e-Literate TV case studies. If you’re looking for evidence that adaptive learning is going to deliver on the promise of a robot tutor in the sky, you won’t find it there. But it’s easy to flatten that result into “adaptive learning doesn’t work.” I don’t believe that the SRI study shows any such thing.

First of all, what is our standard of proof? A good half of my column is devoted to the methodological challenges of doing big meta-studies like this one. It’s really hard to (ethically) control the variables across multiple classrooms well enough to get a clean result. SRI had to throw out most of the data they had for some measures.

But equally importantly, there’s just a lot that meta-studies can’t get at precisely because the goals of each implementation are different. For example, one of the goals for implementing OLI at UC Davis was getting students more prepared to engage in higher-level critical thinking in class discussion. Here are some Davis faculty talking about their course design goals:

I’m not sure how one would empirically measure such a result; nor could I see how to incorporate it into a meta-study that also includes, for example, Essex County College’s developmental math course.

While the Gates Foundation should get credit for bringing in a credible third-party evaluator to review the results of the grants,[1] the design parameters for this particular study do not appear to be as useful as they might have been. That said, the larger point is that it’s really hard to do educational research well. Rather than using these studies as Rorchach tests, we should be taking the time to improve our educational research literacy and better understand what each study can and cannot prove.

  1. Full disclosure: Our company received grant money from the Gates Foundation to cover personalized learning []
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