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. Open Education
2. Flexible Learning Trends
3. MOOCs

Open Education

My open textbook: Pedagogy and practice
Robin Derosa, a professor at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire, discusses how she created an open textbook with her students and reflects on how the experience affected her pedagogy. Derosa hired a team of undergraduate students and recent alums to create a textbook for an American literature survey course. Using Pressbooks, a WordPress-based platform, Derosa and her team built the initial skeleton of the textbook over a summer. When Derosa introduced the book in the fall to her new students, the students continued to help build it by creating introductions and performing editorial work. Students also produced short films, discussion questions, and assignments. Derosa describes the value of involving students in the creation process, stating that “textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students…students are the perfect people to create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the materials in meaningful ways.”  

Flexible Learning Trends

The making of a teaching evangelistThis article from The Chronicle of Higher Education explores how Eric Mazur has evolved his teaching and become a champion of active, student-centred, and problem-based learning. Mazur, who is a professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, is critical of the use of traditional lectures in higher education. Earlier in his career, he realized that students were not learning key concepts—they were memorizing formulas. He has transformed his teaching since then, favouring approaches where “[students] must actively grapple with the subject matter, whether in small groups, by responding to questions using clickers, or through other exercises.” Mazur also built a brand new course—Applied Physics 50—that emphasizes student motivation and the social dimensions of education. Students work in teams and engage in hands-on problem solving through projects and low-stakes competitions. Mazur, who has delivered more than 1,100 talks about teaching, argues that for students to learn, they must do more than listen. “Learning is not a spectator sport,” he states. Mazur visited UBC in 2013 and spoke about techniques to increase student engagement and learning. 

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Ensuring student success in online courses

Online classes are popular due to their flexibility and convenience, however, it has been found that online classes have a higher dropout rate than traditional face-to-face classes. This article from Faculty Focus looks at strategies and techniques that instructors can use to support students in online courses.

  • Course organization and layout: Provide a simple and consistent layout and navigation for all modules. Explain the structure and layout of the course with a “course tour” video.
  • Clearly communicate expectations: Deliver detailed and explicit instructions about the course format, assignments, grading criteria, etc. A frequently asked questions section may also be helpful for students.
  • Prepare students: Develop an orientation for students with tips that will help them succeed. Discuss items such as technical skills, study skills, and resources.
  • Chunk the content and scaffold instruction: Organize the content into modules or units to make it easier and more manageable for students to understand and remember concepts.
  • Humanize the course: Set a warm, welcoming tone at the beginning of the course and encourage peer-to-peer support and group work. Humanize the online experience through personal interactions and stories.
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Tower Records was doomed: The music industry was not
This article from Educause Review examines how industries innovate in times of changing technologies and how these lessons can inform higher education institutions. It provides the example of the music industry. When digital technology emerged that allowed music to be distributed in new ways, the music industry resisted. Instead of trying to save their current product, the music industry, the article argues, should have come up with an alternative to the system. Similarly, higher education institutions are in an era where they need to innovate. As online learning improves, post-secondary institutions must also progress and add value to learning beyond what the Internet offers. The article states, “The future of higher education resides in our ability to integrate all of the learning on a campus. If we can connect the learning in the classroom with what happens in athletics, residential life, and student government, if we can meet and support students where they are, if we can monitor students' progress and well-being…then we will be doing something online courses can't do. We will be adding value.”

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How ten key developments are shaping the future of technology-enabled learning

This article from Contact North's examines ten key developments in technology-enabled learning that may impact the strategic plans and actions of colleges and universities around the world. Some of these developments include:

  • Competency-based and outcome-based learning are growing quickly: Schools are moving from a knowledge-based curriculum to a curriculum that emphasizes skills and competencies. This is in part driven by the need to bridge the gap between the skills of graduates and what employers are seeking. Universities want to be seen as “critical producers of highly qualified people that can drive socio-economic development.”
  • Technology is enabling new approaches to pedagogy: The technological landscape is constantly evolving. New developments, enabled by technology, that will likely have an impact on teaching and learning include artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and open educational resources.
  • MOOCs are providing expanded routes to the delivery and recognition of learning: More MOOCs are being offered and an increasing number of people are signing up for them. With MOOCs, students have more options to demonstrate their competency and knowledge through credentials such as badges, specializations, and nanodegrees.

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All stakeholders must engage in learning analytics debateGeorge Siemens, executive director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research Lab at the University of Texas at Arlington, argues that higher education institutions need to engage in discussions around learning analytics. He states that, “If we want a future that embodies values that are important to us, then we have to be active participants in the sociotechnical and economic spaces driving that change." Siemens, who is the founding president of the Society of Learning Analytics Research, advocates for learning analytics to be open, where learners can have access to their data profile. He also likes the idea of the computed curriculum, where a course is only created as a learner starts a learning experience. The learning experience is customized in real-time for each learner. Once the learner’s profile is connected with the subject matter “that curriculum is computed to provide them with the best resources to support their existing learning and increase how quickly they achieve a degree or recognition.”

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Theories for learning with emerging technologiesTerry Anderson, professor emeritus and former Canada Research Chair in Distance Education at Athabasca University, reviews the theoretical underpinnings of the use of emerging technologies in teaching and learning. Anderson examines historical theories of educational technology, including social constructivism, complexity theory, and connectivism. He advocates for the use of theory, stating, “much of our understanding of how and why learning happens and the best ways to design effective learning activities is enhanced when we work from theoretical models.” While theories can add value, Anderson also cautions that they need to “evolve to account for networked affordances, digital disruptions, and unanticipated consequences.”

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The TIEs (and TIPs) that bind: Fostering massive open online communities

The University of Wisconsin-Madison supplemented the online experience of two of their MOOCs by including in-person activities. The first MOOC, “The Land Ethic Reclaimed: Perceptive Hunting, Aldo Leopold, and Conservation,” integrated targeted interactive events (TIE). Learners were given a crash course in handling and shooting rifles for hunting, a hands-on butchering and cooking demonstration, workshops, tours, public lectures, and more. The second MOOC, “Changing Weather and Climate in the Great Lakes Region,” included a targeted interactive partnership (TIP) with the Wisconsin Library Service and libraries around the state. Partners set up and promoted discussion groups at their libraries and instructors attended at least one library discussion in person. Participants in both types of events were found to have more appreciation for the learning experience and felt more connected to the university. The events and partnerships “provided a unique opportunity to bring new audiences to the MOOCS, including those who did not naturally gravitate toward virtual learning…and engage new audiences in their own community spaces.”

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Flexible Learning
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Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z2

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