Thursday May 29, 2014

Where Do Big Data and Higher Education Intersect?

Credit: Jenna Dutcher, datascience@berkeley ( Visit to know more

Today’s higher education landscape includes a substantial slot dedicated to online learning. With so much technology in our classrooms, and our technology sometimes functioning as our classroom, it should come as no surprise that there is a lot more data being collected pertaining to education these days.

The handy infographic below takes a look at the world of online higher education and Big Data, including the benefits and drawbacks of online learning, some of the barriers, and how data can help drive improvement in education. Keep reading to learn more!

Where Do Big Data and Higher Education Intersect?

  • As of 2012, 86.5% of institutions provided some type of online offerings.
  • Universities offering online degree programs nearly doubled between 2002 and 2012.
  • Nonprofit institutions offering online degree programs more than doubled from 2002 to 2012.

Data from online education can:

  • Help predict student success
  • Improve graduation rates and student retention
  • Determine what a learner does and does not know
  • Monitor a student’s behavior and engagement level
  • Notify a professor when the student is getting off track, bored, or frustrated
  • Increase engagement via game mechanics
  • Personalize the learning process
  • Reduce classroom administrative work
  • Help faculty refine content and keep relevant
  • Facilitate global and local community development
  • Measure student improvement beyond test scores

There are many different data points being measured/collected:

  • Name
  • Demographic information
  • School information
  • Rosters
  • Grades
  • Attendance
  • Disciplinary information
  • Engagement metrics
  • Time on page
  • Bounce rates



Thursday May 22, 2014

6 trends that will accelerate the adoption of technology in higher education

The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, officially launched on 3 February 2014, aims to examine emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching and learning within higher education settings.

It is the 11th annual higher education report of its kind, and is published by the New Media Consortium, a not-for-profit consortium of more than 250 colleges, universities, museums and companies that conducts research into emerging forms of media and technology.

The report, produced in partnership with the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, picks out six “key trends” that are accelerating the adoption of technology in higher education.

1. Growing ubiquity of social media

“The top 25 social media platforms worldwide share 6.3 billion accounts among them,” the Horizon report says. “Educators, students, alumni, and the general public routinely use social media to share news about scientific and other developments. The impact of these changes in scholarly communication and on the credibility of information remains to be seen, but it is clear that social media has found significant traction in almost every education sector.”

For educational institutions, social media enable “two way dialogues between students, prospective students, educators, and the institution that are less formal than with other media”, it continues, adding that educators are using them “as professional communities of practice, as learning communities, and as a platform to share interesting stories about topics students are studying in class”.

“There is room for leadership among universities and colleges to document creative social media projects that demonstrate the benefits of social media for education,” the report continues. “Efforts such as Vanderbilt University’s YouTube channel give students, faculty, and the general public a glimpse into important work happening on campus, for instance, while Texas State University leverages Facebook and Twitter as formal and informal discussion forums.”

2. Integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning

According to Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition, “education paradigms are shifting to include more online learning, blended and hybrid learning, and collaborative models”.

Institutions that “embrace face-to-face, online, and hybrid learning models” have the potential to engage with students who “already spend much of their free time on the internet”, learning and exchanging new information.

“An increasing number of universities are incorporating online environments into courses of all kinds, which is making the content more dynamic, flexible, and accessible to a larger number of students,” the report says. “To encourage collaboration and reinforce real world skills, universities are experimenting with policies that allow for more freedom in interactions between students when working on projects and assessments.”

One university that is staying ahead of the curve by experimenting with online learning environments is Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the report says.

At IUPUI, “student researchers are working with instructional technologists and professors to explore how web-conferencing platforms can be used for Peer-Led Team Learning, whereby small groups of students solve problems together in workshops”.

3. Rise of data-driven learning and assessment

“There is a growing interest in using new sources of data for personalizing the learning experience and for performance measurement,” the Horizon report says. “As learners participate in online activities, they leave an increasingly clear trail of analytics data that can be mined for insights.”

The report concludes that although students and educators are generating more and more data, especially in online environments, “higher education in general has yet to fully embrace these sorts of processes”.

“There is a growing interest in developing tools and algorithms for revealing patterns inherent in those data and then applying them to the improvement of instructional systems,” it says, before citing a five-year initiative at Eastern Connecticut State University.

“ECSU is using a data-driven approach to increase the success of low-income, minority students and first generation students,” the report says. “Gathering data from sources such as residential, library, tutoring programs, and surveys, the university is hoping to understand and predict why some students are more likely to drop out than others.”

4. Shift from students as consumers to students as creators

Pedagogical practice on university campuses all over the world is shifting, as students learn “by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content”, Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition says.

“University departments in areas that have not traditionally had lab or hands-on components are shifting to incorporate hands-on learning experiences as an integral part of the curriculum. Courses and degree plans across all disciplines at institutions are in the process of changing to reflect the importance of media creation, design, and entrepreneurship.”

New funding mechanisms have “put university students more in control of the development of their research than ever before”, the report continues.

“Through the crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter or Indegogo, student-led projects that might have stalled at the concept or model stage can now be brought to fruition. A student at Cornell University, for example, is using Kickstarter to develop Kicksat, a project intended to launch a small spacecraft into low earth orbit.”

In another example, at Dartmouth College, researchers are exploring how student-generated video can be used to “further learning and evaluate a student’s academic performance through the collection of various assignments housed on the Media Projects page of the college’s website”.

5. Agile approaches to change

According to the Horizon report, there is “a growing consensus among many higher education thought leaders” that institutional leadership and curricula could benefit from “agile startup models”.

Such models “use technology as a catalyst for promoting a culture of innovation in a more widespread, cost-effective manner”, and pilots that are being developed for higher education institutions include the improvements of organisational structures to “more effectively nurture entrepreneurship among both students and faculty”.

Demand from employers for graduates with “real world experience” before entering the workforce means that “more institutions are structuring learning activities that forge these opportunities early”, the report concludes.

“One well-known, low-cost model is Pennsylvania State University’s One Button Studio, which is a video recording set-up that enables users with no production experience to create high quality videos with only a flash drive and the push of a button.

“When educators are able to experiment with new technologies and approaches before implementing them in courses, they have the opportunity to evaluate them and make improvements to teaching models.”

6. Evolution of online learning

There has been a shift in the perception of online learning “to the point where it is seen as a viable alternative to some forms of face-to-face learning”, the Horizon Report says.

“The value that online learning offers is now well understood, with flexibility, ease of access, and the integration of sophisticated multimedia and technologies chief among the list of appeals.”

Developments in learning analytics and “a combination of cutting-edge asynchronous and synchronous tools” will continue to advance the state of online learning and keep it compelling, it continues, “though many of these are still the subjects of experiments and research by online learning providers and higher education institutions”.

According to the 56-strong panel of experts that were consulted for the report, the advent of voice and video tools is “not only increasing the number of interactive activities between online instructors and students, but also greatly improving their quality”, while audio tools “such as VoiceThread and SoundCloud, along with video creation tools such as iMovie and Dropcam, enable faculty to capture important human gestures, including voice, eye contact, and body language, which all foster an unspoken connection with learners.”


Tuesday May 13, 2014

The "Global Academic Village" and Intellectual Standardization


 I thought this would be a good read.

The higher education community is planning for a world in which information technology (IT) will be so pervasive that the very institution of higher education will change. Of course, IT probably can be used to improve higher education. But IT is exceedingly flexible, and we will face numerous choices about how best to apply it. Some of those choices are straightforward matters of efficiency, best left to technical experts. Other choices will require us to reflect carefully on the values that a university ought to express. If educators have learned anything from attempts to improve life using IT, it is that significant improvements are possible only when institutions are rethought. But in order to rethink institutions in a responsible way, we first need language to describe them.

Let us consider an example. In a 1998 letter to University of California faculty members, Sandra Weiss (1998) -- then chair of the University system's Academic Council -- discussed course articulation, which she defines as "the degree to which students can build an additive degree program by taking courses either at different institutions or at the different campuses of one institution" (all quotes page 5). (This same idea is called modularity in Britain, where it was central to the higher education policies of the Margaret Thatcher and John Major governments.) Weiss contends that flexible course articulation is important because "we have moved into an era where individual campuses are becoming part of a larger academic community -- a 'global academic village,' so to speak". IT helps drive this trend, and Weiss further explains that "[f]or technology-mediated coursework, we need to identify comparable content across courses that would be acceptable for transfer and also grapple with our expectations regarding traditional 'face to face contact' between professor and student and among students themselves."

This sort of commentary weighs against the stereotype of professors (or "academic elites," as the new jargon would have it) as Luddites engaged in bull-headed resistance to technologically driven institutional change. In her letter, Weiss, a professor in the School of Nursing at UC San Francisco, supports my own impression that faculty hierarchies are in fact contemplating fundamental changes. Nonetheless, I believe that faculty and administrators alike should step back and evaluate more fully what choices they are making. What are the trade-offs associated with articulation? And how are these related to IT in particular?

Ontological Standardization: Making Disparate Systems Uniform

The main tradition of computer system design involves a phenomenon that might be called ontological standardization. In writing a computer program, the first challenge is to define the ontology that the program's data structures will reflect -- that is, to define what sorts of things the world is made of and, therefore, what sorts of data objects will be created and stored through the program's operation. In technical terms, this is called a data model (Simsion 1994). In the case of higher education, an ontology might include people, job titles, departments, courses, majors, and grades. The resulting program will work correctly only if everything that the program represents can be contained within one of those six categories.

In the old, un-networked world, different universities developed their ontologies somewhat independently of one another. Some trends, including the frequent movement of administrators from one university to another, did enable what Walter Powell and Paul DiMaggio (1991) call institutional isomorphism: a pattern of analogies between the workings of different organizations. But in the world of networked computing, the forces of institutional isomorphism are amplified greatly. If a student chooses to study at only one out of hundreds of different four-year schools, it matters little whether the internal workings of those schools can be mapped onto one another. But if, at the opposite extreme, a student chooses from among hundreds of schools for each course or even each class meeting, then the schools need to ensure that their definitions of course or class meeting, among other important terms, are the same.

Ontological standardization, then, is what happens when separate organizations in a given institutional field are required to make uniform the most fundamental categories of their internal workings. Until recently, the issue has arisen primarily in the context of mergers between corporations; if the computer systems of two merging companies cannot talk to one another -- say, because their definitions of employee and sales do not match -- then genuine havoc can result. Now, however, the same issue can arise in a wide variety of institutional contexts, even when separate organizations are not formally merging.

The Implications for Higher Education

Institutions of higher education now compete on the basis of their distinctive programs: one economics department, for example, might be ranked above another in a magazine survey. Departments can design the curricula for their majors according to their own distinctive approach, and students can choose the program that fits best with their values and goals. Universities can design their core curricula according to an overall educational philosophy. Because decisions about program philosophy and course content are made by the faculty, the contents of and boundaries between courses are flexible; they can be changed to suit evolving circumstances, not least the interests of the best students.

A radical increase in articulation would threaten this flexibility. Allowing students to earn academic credit at multiple campuses is often a good thing. It can create financial tension between the campuses, but it also permits students to save money, discover new interests, or overcome imperfect high school transcripts. The University of California recognizes this fact; for decades, it has encouraged students to transfer from community colleges into the UC system, even though the transfer students sometimes find this transition difficult. But if it becomes radically easier to transfer course credit between schools, thus effectively enabling students to assemble their college education a la carte from among the offerings of a large number of potentially quite different programs, then, I will argue, intellectual diversity may suffer.

Observe, first of all, that articulation requires ontological standardization. At present, with a low degree of articulation, much bureaucracy is required to determine which courses at school A count for which requirements at school B. As the degree of articulation grows, this ad hoc scheme becomes impractical (Hawkins 1999: 15). Thus, to the extent that degree programs are assembled from bits and pieces of coursework provided by different campuses, the very concept of a course (and a grade, and so on) must be the same on each campus.

It does not follow that ontological standardization implies articulation. Institutions of higher education could systematically standardize their ontologies in order to employ compatible software, or to achieve economies of scale in the training of their staff, without trying to standardize the contents of particular courses. Problems nontheless arise. Even though it does not directly affect course content, ontological standardization would make it difficult (i.e., even more difficult than it already is) for a single institution to choose a radically different path -- eliminating the boundaries between courses altogether, say, or replacing grades with narrative evaluations. All of the standardized schools would reap the benefits of interoperability, and the outlier would suffer competitively as a result. If a qualitatively different and better way of organizing higher education is out there waiting to be discovered, the lock-in of a single set of standards (Shapiro and Varian 1998) might render it impracticable. Most importantly, ontological standardization would remove a major barrier to articulation, and would thereby increase the incentives to standardize course contents. Those incentives, of course, are not entirely absent in a print-based world: textbooks, for example, respond to the economies of scale that can be achieved by standardizing the contents of introductory courses. But with technology, the opportunities for content standardization are much greater.

The institutional consequences of this trend would be even worse. A radical increase in articulation would require the internal modularity of degree programs to be coordinated centrally, or at least negotiated among numerous independent universities. The result would be less flexibility and greater uniformity. The power to adjust fine details of a curriculum inevitably would shift from faculty members to accrediting organizations, university administrators, and other professional coordinators. Faculty may effectively lose the right to design their own syllabi. This is a matter for serious concern. The diversity of thinking and teaching at universities has long been important to the health of a free society; that is why professors are awarded tenure once they have passed several competitive hurdles and proven their abilities. Faculty are in day-to-day contact with the particular students who have chosen them and are thus in a much better position than a centralized organization to assess their evolving needs. Increased articulation through the use of IT would thus endanger the institutional conditions that guarantee a diversity of intellectual approaches.

Important Choices

As the higher education community decides how to use IT, then, it faces important choices. Before advanced communications technologies became widespread, educational decentralization and diversity were promoted by the limitations of the physical world. Universities were distant from each other geographically, and it was relatively difficult to transfer people and practices between them; consequently, different universities evolved along somewhat independent paths. Now, however, that independence -- that separate evolution and diversity of educational approach -- exists only if educators actively choose to foster it. And because the local benefits of standardization are easier to quantify than the global benefits of diversity, broad awareness of the issues is crucial. A new generation of students, never having encountered higher education before, may not even recognize the dangers of a centrally planned educational economy or an intellectually homogeneous society.

Although many cyberspace visionaries have asserted that IT inevitably brings decentralization and choice to the world, this analysis of institutional isomorphism suggests that the opposite might be closer to the truth. The practice of ontological standardization first arose in military and industrial settings in which centralized coordination did not threaten important societal values. Higher education, however, is a different story. In order to use IT constructively, educators may have to reinvent it, reconceiving what it means to define an ontology, to standardize practices, and to fit modular components into a whole. At a minimum, we should weigh as fully as possible the potential consequences of each individual standard. Particular standards, such as for the university's financial processes, may have no significant impact on education. Others can perhaps be designed carefully to gain the benefits of interoperability without contributing to an intellectual monoculture (cf. Hanseth, Monteiro, & Hatling 1996). But some standards may grease an already slippery slope that endangers the university's social purpose, and those standards should be rethought. So let us use technology when it helps us do our good work better. But let us not permit the traditional practices of technology to dictate important, value-laden changes in our institutions. Technology is supposed to serve human purposes, but the burden of technology is that we must choose carefully how to apply it so that we do not sacrifice individuality.


Mohit Satraj Phogat
Author: Mohit Phogat

This site focuses on Oracle's offerings to higher education in the Indian region. It intends to cover news, reviews, guides, how-to articles, descriptive videos, and podcasts on the trends which should be helpful to customers, prospects and developer community alike.

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