Flexibytes: Flexible learning news, trends, and resources.
Welcome to the Flexibytes newsletter featuring flexible learning news, trends, and resources at UBC and beyond.

In this issue:

1. Flexible Learning Trends
2. MOOCs

Flexible Learning Trends

Are you ready for blended learning?

In this blog post, Tony Bates discusses challenges and strategies to incorporate blended learning into higher education instruction. Bates predicts that nearly all post-secondary teaching in North America will be blended. “The key question,” he writes, “is not whether or not blended learning will be the norm, but will it be done well or badly?” Bates acknowledges the challenges of blended learning. These include motivating students to come to campus when then can learn most things online, and a lack of resources and academic support to expand and scale blended learning. He offers several strategies for dealing with these challenges. He suggests that instructors take a course on how to teach an online or blended course, and that it be mandatory that instructors receive instructional support for online and blended teaching. UBC currently offers a four-week immersive blended course to help instructors move to a blended environment.

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Peer Instruction in introductory physics: A method to bring about positive changes in students’ attitudes and beliefs

Peer Instruction can positively impact students’ attitudes and beliefs, according to a study done at Beijing Normal University. The study looked at first-year undergraduate science students in four introductory physics courses. One class was taught using traditional lecture methods; the other three were taught using Peer Instruction, which “was designed to engage students in active, peer-led discussions in order to help learners solidify conceptual understanding and encourage them to learn from one another much as they will when they become members of a scientific community.” The instructors did a pre- and post-test with students using the Colorado Learning Attitudes about Science Survey “to measure students’ attitudes and beliefs about the nature of physics and learning.” The researchers found that students in the traditional lecture classrooms became “significantly more novice-like in their beliefs about physics and learning physics,” while student attitudes and beliefs improved in the three classes using Peer Instruction.

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ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology, 2016

A report from the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) looks at undergraduate students and their relationship with information technology. The report examines the importance of technology to students, experiences students have with technology, their preferences regarding technology, and the effects of technology on students. More than 70,000 respondents from 183 institutions in 12 countries participated in the research. Among the findings are that students have a strong positive orientation toward technology. Students also feel that a majority of their instructors are using technology to connect to learning materials, and that instructors encourage the use of online collaborative tools. According to the report, it is important to understand what undergraduate students think about technology “given that [they] are higher education IT organizations’ largest and arguably most important group of end users.”

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The personal lecture: How to make big classes feel smallThe Chronicle of Higher Education looks at ways that universities are transforming large lecture classes to make them feel more personal. In one example from the University of Texas at Austin, a small introductory psychology course uses lab exercises and pop quizzes and is broadcast to hundreds of other students who can tune in from wherever they are. Other professors point to strategies such as small breakout groups, hand-held clicker quizzes, and poster presentations. Windi D. Turner, an assistant professor at Utah State University, suggests that changes can be as simple as making an extra effort to connect with students on a more personal level. “If the student feels like he’s just a number and doesn’t feel a connection or purpose, he feels like he could slip away and the professor would never know," Turner said.

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Meeting the challenge of demographic changeIn this commentary in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Joe Garcia and William Serrata examine the need for colleges to find new ways of recruiting and retaining increasingly diverse student bodies. Garcia, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, a non-profit that facilitates collaboration among higher education systems and institutions, and Serrata, president of El Paso Community College, point out that more non-white, first generation, low income students are arriving on campuses, and institutions need to do more to help these diverse groups. They suggest strategies such as increasing initiatives to provide academic support, creating partnerships with feeder schools, and increasing the diversity of faculty and leadership.
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Education technology and the 'new economy'Educational technology writer Audrey Watters takes a critical look at the increasing push towards computer science education. The rise in teaching students computer science and how to code is often attributed to a “skills gap” and the need to develop “job ready” students. Watters notes that despite the increased attention, the results regarding enrolments and graduation rates in computer science and STEM education are still mixed. Studying in these fields also does not guarantee job opportunities and security. According to the Wall Street Journal, the tech industry has not delivered enough jobs. Watters says that it is industries that are influencing the shape and direction of the trend towards computer science. She points to a resurgence in for-profit higher education, including MOOC startups Udacity and Coursera, who have rebranded to target the post-secondary technical training market and professional development for employees.

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Mass learning must mean web-based studyLaurence Brockliss, a professor at the University of Oxford, argues that institutional inertia is halting the progress of online courses. Brockliss argues that new technology is providing an opportunity for a new type of mass higher education. Brockliss describes how students could study away from their universities and access resources, including books, lectures, and debates, anywhere, at anytime. Communications could be done via Skype and students could periodically visit their parent institution. Brockliss says, “[Students] could balance study with paid work and finish their courses as quickly or as slowly as they wished.” Brockliss notes this is not a new concept and points to The Open University, which has offered flexible distance learning since 1969. However, while many high-profile institutions have begun developing MOOCs, Brockliss says it is “staggering that the huge advances in communications technology have not prompted any established, mainstream player to adopt distance learning as a core activity.” 

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Moocs can transform education—but not yet

Times Higher Education looks at MOOCs over the last few years and their potential impact on higher education in the future. Former Stanford University President John Hennessy states that MOOCs are “not the kind of revolutionary thing I think people were hoping for.” MOOCs, despite their growth in the past few years, have faced much criticism. Some have claimed that MOOCs are too impersonal, have low completion rates, and have not been improving access to education as much as expected. However, Rick Levin, chief executive of the MOOC provider Coursera, argues that MOOCs can still transform higher education. Levin notes that MOOCs have made a large impact on professional development and the development of fully online post-graduate degrees, which have significantly lower tuition fees than on-campus degrees. According to the article, “it is clear that continuing innovation will be needed if Coursera is indeed to live up to the initial hype surrounding MOOCs.”

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Flexible Learning
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Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z2

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