Category Archives: Education

TLT at S&T March 12-13, 2015

Fresh back from the ELI Conference I wanted to compare the agenda for our upcoming Teaching and Learning Technology Conference, TLT, scheduled for March 12-13 here at the Missouri University of Science and Technology campus in Rolla, MO. This conference has matured over the years to be a leading regional conference for Education Technology. Under the direction of Meg Brady, Director, and Angie Hammons, Manager, of Education Technology at Missouri S&T, this conference has an all star lineup with extremely relevant sessions. 

Plus: TLT will be hosting a CanvasCon by Instructure on the 12th.

The Keynote Speakers:

Robbie K. Melton, Ph.D. — Associate Vice Chancellor of Mobilization Emerging Technology; Tennessee Board of Regents,  “The Emergence of Mobile and Smart Devices: Is Your Device Smarter than You?”

Jeff Schramm, Ph.D. — Associate Professor of History & Political Science; Missouri S&T, “MOOC’s, LMS, ELI, PRR, CB&Q and EMD: What the history of technology can teach us about the future of higher education.”

I love the fact that this conference brings together many innovative professors in higher education along with their Instructional Designers, Developers and Technologists, plus many from K-12 who want to make sure their students are properly prepared for college. TLT does carry some Missouri S&T STEM influence but I believe that it only strengthens how EdTech is applied to the liberal arts community. An exciting area of development in the last year has been with the preparation of virtual labs for chemistry and biology.

OH yes, did I mention that our TLT is FREE….

Return to the One Room Schoolhouse

I have seen a trend with my STEM connected colleagues over the last 6 months wanting to discuss concepts of adaptive or competency based learning, CBL. These discussions evolved for many reasons such as; lack of classroom space, course scheduling problems or issues surrounding non-tenure track faculty. This discussion is right on target when it occurs with younger faculty, however, now older faculty are asking questions and seem to be contemplating how this could work. Generally there is agreement that it is inevitable that education will move in this direction, but then you start talking about the repercussions of what that might look like to the higher education business model and fear returns to the conversation. I guess what is different is that now there seems to be recognition of the value of the learning model and discussions are tending toward how we might implement it.

Personalized Learning

I decided to write this post after a number of discussions yesterday, some stimulated by those who viewed CNN’s airing of the “Ivory Tower” documentary. As we talked about implementing adaptive learning to our STEM courses I was drawn to the vision of the old one room schoolhouse. STEM possibly more then any other academic discipline is based on building blocks or competencies. Math and the sciences dominate this with competency based requirements built into courses as well as with interdependencies between courses. So when I thought of the one room schoolhouse I saw it as similar to the students that we receive. In the one room schoolhouse students have to progress through levels of reading, writing and arithmetic, and they had a built in remediation process. The teacher was there to help at all levels.

How did we get to our current college degree attainment path based on taking a selected number of courses that may or may not actually give you all of the competencies that you or your employer desire? I think we used to have a much more standardized entry path to college. Students from high school, mostly Americans, had very similar competencies due to similar curriculums that could not be supplemented by additional information as is now available via the Internet. The over achievers could go to World Book, but for the most part if a student got accepted to college then they pretty much entered at the same level and the progression through a standard set of courses with a few electives worked fine. That world no longer exists. We have screwed up high school believing that standardized testing validates competencies. Combine that with the financial pressure universities are under to maintain enrollment and you end up with a freshman class that is much more in line with the one room schoolhouse.

Change is coming and it will be heavily influenced by competency based learning and I think STEM may be well positioned to adapt to this. We have been working on this concept in our general ed core curriculums of math and science. At first it was about trying to figure out online or hybrid learning but now we are starting to see how we may need to change the academic business model. The emerging CBL providers such as Western Governors are built upon a personalized learning foundation that allows the student to progress at their own pace. Tuition is based on a period of time not on credit hours, which creates the incentive of “the faster you progress, the more you save”. Maybe there is a hybrid version of this that can work for the traditional residential university.

I’m going to take a stab at what this might look like for STEM degrees. I’m looking at this as realist considering what might be acceptable for our entrenched higher education culture, today’s student and the political and financial forces that will inevitably force the change. The first 2 years of most STEM degrees are fairly similar based on the need to build a foundation of math through calculus, basic concepts for the sciences with English and physics typically being foundational as well. This is true for pre-meds through engineering and it is typically fairly challenging to ensure that we are not wasting our time on the students in the upper level of the degree program. So how about a one room schoolhouse for each STEM discipline complete with a set of competency based learning modules designed with assessments that provide adaptive options to complete each step. We have talented non-tenure track faculty always available and still teaching but not on a fixed lecture circuit. The environment would facilitate collaborative learning along with the necessary lab requirements. The student pays the same tuition, and heck we even keep the semester structure. The advanced students finish early or have more time for extra curricular activities such as undergraduate research or experiential learning options. As the student emerges from this general ed core they enter into the more traditional degree completion with the upper level courses and labs taught by tenure track faculty to complete their STEM program.

I’m going to stop here without digging into the obvious questions and details. But what do you think? I think it might be an improvement.

Providing Technology that Students Actually Use

While eating lunch at my desk I opened up the webcam view of our new Nonavitra 6K Visualization Wall we built for use in the library. Three students jumped on the system and proceeded to spend 15 minutes exploring chemical bonding options starting from some periodic table application. I wouldn’t say that it was utilizing hi-res graphics but what was important is that the students were having such a great time exploring. This brings me to what I feel is one of the most important reasons for giving our students access to this visualization resource. The opportunity to explore and gain experience in working with resolution that is typically reserved for corporate showcases or expensive research facilities.

nonavitralibrarySCR-SVRsm

Nonavitra Visualization Wall

The library had an open house a few weeks ago where they introduced Nonavitra and ever since we have seen the reservation schedule for the resource fill up with student groups especially in the evening. In fact one of the first uses for the wall was the rugby club using it to scout a future opponent. But what I love is that student study groups are reserving it.

In the beginning my Research Support team started bugging me to allow them to build some sort of a visualization facility. They wanted to build an immersion visualization experience reminiscent of CAVE2 at the UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL). And yes that would be fabulous but we need to walk before we run, which is why user adoption is the overriding requirement. Last year’s V4DiR focused on 3D data review and the Nonavitra Visualization Wall now allows us to put a powerful visualization resource in the hands of our faculty and students. The one condition that I set was that I would not build a visualization resource that would become relegated to providing campus visitor demos. We seem to be having success with these technology rollouts. The 3D Printer program in the library has been extremely successful. The secret to success is to put your effort into engineering the business process for making the resource available.

Considering Hire Education

I try to discuss innovation and disruption in higher education on my blog. However, it is difficult at best to dig too deep into these areas since I am digging from the inside. That sounds a bit like digging your own grave and I’ll just leave that comment hanging. But I have been accused of being the most innovative and too innovative and because of that I must carefully manage that perception as it relates to disruption. Higher education as it is primarily established today cannot handle the disruption which tends to evolve from innovation. Very sad really, it means that any innovation in higher education must fit into the existing structure which tends to predict its doom. But it is that structure that is predicting higher education’s doom.

My motivation to open up this topic comes from my increased interactions with our corporate partners looking to hire our students. This is a good thing that we have corporate partners who want to build a relationship with us because the trend is not necessarily moving in that direction. Two recent Gallup Polls revealed that although 96 percent of chief academic officers believe that they are doing a good job of preparing students for employment, only 11 percent of business leaders agree that graduates have the requisite skills for success in the workforce. I hear the same concerns but thankfully we do produce graduates that are acceptable to employers but we cannot rest on our reputation. The skill sets needed by employers is changing much faster then our curriculums.

It is commonly accepted that higher education is approaching a bubble of dramatic disruption. Theories on what that might look like range across the spectrum typically dependent upon what role one plays in that industry. But when you step back from personal feelings it is hard to understand how this system designed centuries ago can continue much longer without some serious overhaul. Of course change or innovation rarely occurs from within, it will be outside forces that create the bubble. Those forces evolve from our customers and the options that they explore. I think the most significant force will come from the employers of our graduates. The Christensen Institute has helped alert us to disruptive signals over the years and I think they have produced an excellent review of how our employers are shifting their tactics in their latest publication “Hire Education”.

The publication as mentioned in the video shifts focus to an examination of online competency-based education. Unfortunately for our traditional institutions of higher education online competency-based education would probably have the most disruptive affect imaginable on our current business model. I do sympathize with the overall value proposition that higher education offers and we should not lose what is working in HE, but I think we know that change is coming, so shouldn’t we we planning for it. Read the “Hire Education” report with an open mind and consider how we might adapt our credit hour, semester based approach to conveying a degree. I am fascinated by how we might adapt our ERP systems. I could see year round college campuses where you protect all that is great about a residential and experiential learning college experience. Maybe some of the students are working in a competency based track and given support from subject matter experts and academic staff. It may not be the tenure track dream job but it could still be an extremely rewarding alternative.

Research Support and Student Experiential Learning

The pursuit of a STEM degree has gained significant attention in recent years as we evaluate the ROI for a college degree. A recent article in NerdScholar by Yesenia Rascon, “Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Research University” highlights the importance of experiential learning, access to research facilities and hands on career development quantifies many of the reasons we allow our IT student workers the opportunity to participate in exploratory projects. This all relates back to a culture that we promote for our very successful IT Research Support Services, RSS, group here at Missouri S&T. I have been fortunate to be in a position to carve out some IT budget to dedicate to research support. However, because some of my funding comes from student tech fees I make sure that the students benefit from our efforts. This translates via the hiring of student workers, but extends beyond tradition tech support jobs. We hire students in RSS who seek out that opportunity and we benefit from important support services that they are able to provide to our university. However, we also reward them with the opportunity to own their own research projects. Our staff does offer advice and support but we also let the students fail.

Our students also earn the right to attend national research conferences such as the annual SuperComputing and Great Plains Network. These opportunities provide them excellent presentation experience which we utilized this summer by having our students conduct a workshop for the CyberMiner camp for high school students. We asked them to present their current projects to about 50 high school juniors and seniors. We designed the workshop to encourage the campers to engage with our students and it was truly an inspiration Geekfest showcasing our future technology leaders.

Here is a quick glimpse of the projects they presented and a sense of the workshop.

MinerBytes or Digital Signage Project

MinerBytes or Digital Signage Project

MinerBytes which is a digital signage project based on using the Raspberry PI computer connected to any monitor with access control given to designated administrators. This was a project conceived by a biology student last summer and this summer we are preparing it for version 1 production deployment on campus and in our community. Somewhat of a surprise to us was that this project generated the most interest by the high school students as they were intrigued by the coding behind MinerBytes.

Drone Project in Initial Phase

Drone Project in Initial Phase

The Helicopter Drone Project is in its infancy which was good to be able to show the campers how a project gets birthed. We don’t know where this project will go but we believe we should be on top of the explosion in use of drones. We have ideas for using it in creating virtual tours.

First Segway Prototype

First Segway Prototype

The Segway project started out last summer and has proven to be the perfect multi-discipline opportunity for our students. With a heavy electrical, mechanical and software development component we have had many students involved with this one. Our students presenting the Segway gave the campers some excellent advice based on their experience in designing the controller boards which they fried more then once. They told the campers what they appreciate most about their opportunity to work on these projects is that they are allowed to fail, and that has been their greatest learning experience.

Video Wall built by Students

Video Wall built by Students

The Segway prototype moved to a production design this summer which offered an excellent opportunity to display how they used SolidWorks design software on the new Video Wall that RSS built this summer. The Video Wall currently named MinerView is built on solid computer video display principles but was built from scratch with special attention given to the structure to mount the 9 55 inch high resolution monitors. The students had just a few hours to assemble the video wall in the classroom used for the workshop.

Using Video Wall for Engineering Design

Using Video Wall for Engineering Design

The Video Wall will be used in the upcoming Research and Technology Development Conference, #RTDatSandT on September 15-16 where representatives from Indiana University and the University of Texas will show off the latest in visualization techniques. RTD2014 is another great opportunity for students at S&T.

Video Wall to look at Mt Everest

Video Wall to look at Mt Everest

Of course the Video Wall has many uses and will be an important addition to our Library where it will be made available to the entire campus for visualization. We already know that it will be instrumental as a foundation for our Business and Information Technology department’s ERP Center.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what is possible if your Information Technology department combines the needs of the university with an opportunity for experiential learning.

This New RSS website presents the students projects very well.

Well Rounded Education

In my many years as an IT leader in Higher Education there has always been a relationship with corporate partners who are looking to gain a recruiting advantage for our graduates. When I was at the Christian George Fox University the recruiters would come through me looking for any tech savvy grads I was aware of because they desired their solid work ethics and integrity. Here at Missouri S&T the recruiters are looking for an advantage in connecting with our best students. Problem here is that we do not produce enough graduates so the recruiters are looking for any opportunity possible to lure the student to consider their company.

We know that employers of our tech graduates in the US desire that our grads possess stronger communication and collaboration skills. And I think it is understood that more technology awareness is desired for all graduates. But it has been interesting to confirm feedback from recruiters of our S&T grads that defines how highly they prize our none STEM graduates. Yes, we do produce some graduates with degrees in the humanities, and they are sought after because they are forced to have a strong technology based foundation. This is partly because of the general curriculum requirement of at least 10 natural science or mathematic credits. But the employers say it is also because of the technology culture of the campus which forces those grads to become extremely comfortable working with their fellow STEM students. Due to the many cross discipline group projects our humanities students learn valuable skills in how to work with these sometimes socially challenged STEM students.

Not sure if this justifies anything but it sure can’t hurt to consider greater exposure to STEM curriculum and culture for all college graduates. We do need these humanities grads to help those scientists and engineers have more productive careers.

This recent Bloomberg article “Silicon Valley’s Talent Grab Spawns High School Interns” should be a wake up call for Higher Ed’s inability to produce enough product. Reality is, why wouldn’t tech firms get their recruits on the front end. Of course that is what we should be doing more of.

MOOCs Find Their Niche

There are many reactions to Rebecca Schuman’s article about Sebastian Thrun and Udacity’s “pivot” toward corporate training. Everything from ”I told you so” to “shame on Udacity”. And this is not just about the failed pilot with San Jose State to utilize Udacity to provide greater opportunity to the underserved students in their community. Although Sebastian was a bit too candid in his appraisal. I attribute that more to early confusion about what MOOCs were really about. I do believe that MOOCs have finally come of age and can be utilized for what you wish. But we can’t make a MOOC what it isn’t. MOOCs are a product of our time leveraging the incredible capability of media distribution thanks to the amazing Internet. Let’s face it, anything that can be placed on the Internet generally does and the number of hits or users is the validation of success.

MOOCs were validated by Internet success statistics and the world clamored to define them. How quickly the innocence of experimentation with massive online delivery of a few college courses turned into a disruptive movement within higher education. But disruption is all MOOCs needed to be. Udacity is a company commercializing the delivery of interesting college type courses to to world. If the courses maintained the strict requirements of their traditional university origins then we found that not that many students could really succeed. So to many academics that was a validation of the ineffectiveness of online learning. But I think we had already proven the value of online learning. All that was happening with the various MOOC providers was experimentation with a valid business model.

The business model for a Udacity appears to be steering toward the corporate or continuing education market. Profit needs to be realized and that is not a problem when you have engaged users. The key is the engagement. EdX which more closely emulates higher education standards is up front about their value proposition of research in effective online delivery of courses. And Coursera probably falls in between. MOOCs are now carving out their various business niches just like the many other social networking industries have done. And I think higher education can relax a bit from the fearful prediction that MOOCs would change their world. MOOCs have been disruptive as documented in Jeffrey Young’s new book “Beyond the MOOC Hype: A Guide to Higher Education’s High-Tech Disruption”. I think we also realize that disruption can be healthy and MOOCs are truly stimulating a lot of efforts to improve teaching and learning in our educational institutions.

November 24, 2013 by Jeff Selingo – MOOCs Move Beyond the Perfect Media Narrative

Higher Education will be OK

The change that is taking place in higher education right now is fascinating to watch. There aren’t many century old institutions that you get to watch go through dramatic transitions. The newspaper industry is well into a transition and it could offer great insight for us in higher education.  The recent commentary in the Chronicle by Byron P. White, “Take it from an Ex-Journalist: Adapt or Die ”, put it into better perspective for me.  Today many in higher education do admit that change is coming, however, the time line is seen as distant and the actual change is minimized. Is higher education an industry that fits W. Edwards Deming’s advice given to the auto industry as competition was on the horizon, “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” The world is embracing new digitally driven options that challenge our existing higher education process. This change is not dependent upon higher education’s permission nor it’s demise.

So do we deal with this impending change by dabbling around the edges of the debate? The few institutions that are rolling the dice of transition to a new model are generally motivated by desperation. Most of us are just talking about what this change might look like. And that talk focuses heavily on the high visibility topics such as course delivery, student success or the rising costs. Look at the conversation generated around the MOOC phenomenon which is just the evolution of the online course delivery debate. Most have missed the point, MOOCs are not a threat to higher education but MOOCs are creating the disruption that in turn is exposing our weaknesses. We need to deal with our weaknesses but by no means is there an inevitable doom. I would rather assume that we could come through this time of change stronger then ever.

What are our weaknesses? This is where we get into trouble. Higher Education governs themselves by non authoritative committees. Decisions are made to insure the good for the most, least amount of change and with minimum risk for those deemed responsible.  What I am saying here is that even if we know what our weaknesses are it would be rare to announce them with detail that could lead to a solution. We tend to just try harder but there are exceptions. At every university it is easy to identify those who are capable of making a difference. They happen to be the most respected faculty or staff at the institution. But wait, most respected who possibly have solutions should be in leadership. No, it doesn’t always work that way.  Remember, avoiding change carries the ultimate trump card. So those who could lead have generally tried only to retreat out of frustration. This cycle has continued over time validated by the guiding principle of Academic Freedom.

Again, what are our weaknesses? I think the major weakness is our lack of understanding or acceptance that the  higher education business model has changed. The model we know and love has provided a valuable product desired and required for success. There was no competition because we controlled the primary ingredient, “information”. But the Internet has changed that, thus providing an alternative path to success. This does not mean that our path is diminished, it just means we have competition. I think this relates more to the competition the auto industry faced rather then the newspaper industry. The US adapted and built competitive automobiles by taking advantage of technology. Unfortunately the newspaper industry is competing against technology. But the critical step is to acknowledge the threat.

I do believe higher education will be stronger then ever. Yes competition will probably eliminate the weak, but that will mostly be the result of poor business practices. Those of us moving on will have new opportunities to improve our rankings. Higher education must continue to offer the foundation that fits the community it serves. We focus on the development of the mind, body and soul but we also fine tune our academic product to meet customer and market demand. And we neutralize the threat from technology by embracing it. The threat to higher education is the avoidance of change.

Invest in Your Differentiator

I started writing a post about why universities are trying to be all things to all students. How universities are expending so much energy trying to defend their product rather than being content with their product. But as I got deeper into the post I realized the problem is all about financial aid. Our universities could all be content to fit into the model that they carve out for themselves. But the common denominator that forces them all to be accountable to a common model is the all-powerful dollar provided by financial aid. Darn, I don’t think I have an answer for how to manage financial aid. Wealthy private institutions don’t have to worry but most every other institution does.

My original motivation for the post had to do with how much effort is expended for the purpose of justifying that all students are given an equal opportunity to succeed. Many institutions of higher education are dealing with validation of learning outcomes. So we have remediation, retention, and assessment programs all to prove that we are fulfilling these nebulous requirements for producing a successful graduate. What got me thinking was that it may be OK for students to fail. I am at a significantly STEM based university that has nothing to apologize for. It is not easy to obtain an engineering degree, nor should it be. Yes it is justified for us to expend a fair amount of energy to make sure that we are offering a fair opportunity for an engineering student to succeed but that is our differentiator.

The overwhelming landscape of higher education is strewn with institutions expending enormous amounts of resources trying to validate who they are and why investment in their product is justified. This has caused great confusion for many of these institutions about who they should become. There is great overlap now for obtaining an undergraduate college degree with lively debate about the value of those degrees. But I think it is time for many institutions to retreat and choose a path that they can focus their full attention on. If you can only survive by competing in the commodity game of increasing your enrollment or raising your price, then understand the commodity game. Understand that a degree based on information has become free to the world and it is no longer the differentiator. The price for that degree will only go down. So what is your differentiator?

Now is the time to invest in your differentiator. State institutions should eliminate overlap and quit competing with themselves. States should not be afraid to cap enrollment and allow competition to dictate a student’s options. All students have options even if they do not want to compete. Online learning will only be a financial strategy for the large efficient online programs. All institutions still need to invest in blended learning because it is a requirement for today’s learner. But most of all, invest in your differentiator. That may be the residential experience, student life, research opportunities, athletics, honor’s programs, unique degrees, and even highly effective teachers. But quit trying to compete for that elusive target of academic excellence unless it promotes one of your differentiators.

Are MOOCs Hitting Market Critical Mass?

The talk today in or around higher education is all about the MOOCs. And in recent months I have been privy to an increasing number of inquiries about this MOOC phenomenon from those outside of higher education, golf tends to open that door. What I am saying is that with recent announcements and publicity surrounding the MOOCs we may have reached critical mass where change occurs in the market space. So I have tried to put this in proper historical context with respect to how short history has become. Amazon and Facebook jump out as endeavors that hit critical mass and dramatically changed the market place. The key here is how do you reach critical mass.

I will define critical mass as the point where most everyone involved with a market segment becomes aware and makes a choice. And guess what, increasing access to information to form this opinion is why we are seeing such rapid change. How long do you think it took Sears & Roebuck to hit critical mass? Facebook probably hit critical mass in half the time it took Amazon. I’m not saying MOOCs have hit critical mass but the time to critical mass is only getting shorter.

Reaching critical mass does not mean anything other then enough people will have an opinion that will create a turning point, typically of rapid success or dismissal. Remember Amazon, as that new idea evolved pessimism was aboundant. It can’t succeed based on the current definition of success. I said there was no way they could continue to lose so much money and ever come out in the black. But the reality was that we all appreciated the opportunity and eventually voted with our positive opinion at critical mass which allowed the final thrust of resources to insure success. Yes, behind these opportunities tends to be venture capital.

Critical mass is just a decision point milestone identifying success or failure for a service or product that requires a representative customer base. Consumers have incredible power and influence and this is where higher education finally needs to acknowledge that students are consumers. Putting everything else aside about what MOOCs represent, consider what might happen as they reach critical mass. When I talk to these consumers outside of higher education they have the opinion that higher education is broken and they see options like MOOCs as a possible answer.

If you are higher education then consider your customer base. Consumers create change with their dollars and political influence. Are you dependent upon money or politics?

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