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

In this issue:

1. Blended and online learning

2. MOOC directions and research

3. Seeking evidence of impact

Blended and online learning

Pitfalls and potential: Lessons from HEQCO-funded research on technology-enhanced instruction

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) recently released a report that reviews the findings of 13 projects funded through the council and attempts to discern evidence of impact of technology-enhanced instruction. The report questions assumptions about “digital natives” and the promise of technology, referencing the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) survey, an annual survey completed by over 100,000 students each year. The ECAR survey found that while technology is integrated into students’ daily lives, they require support and guidance in using academic technologies, students value face-to-face interactions in their learning, and that they are ready to use mobile devices in their learning. The importance of mobile devices in instruction was a finding echoed in the 2014 ECAR survey of faculty use of technology that UBC participated in. On the basis of the projects evaluated, the HEQCO report finds that there is little evidence that technology improved outcomes, but it is often difficult to isolate the effects of a given technological tool within the larger learning environment. What is clear is that any technology or tool must be used in pursuit of a clearly defined educational aim, and that both students and faculty are adequately supported to be able to utilize the chosen tool to achieve this aim.

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Cross-disciplinary collaborative course design: Successes and challenges from an implementation at OCAD University

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) recently released a report that looked at cross-disciplinary faculty who collaboratively designed and delivered nine online professional practice modules available for use in five of six program areas in the Faculty of Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD). Collaboration between faculty and an instructional support team was considered a significant achievement; opportunities for improved communication, particularly of effective practices for designing and delivering content in the learning management system and the use of active online learning were identified. Challenges discussed included the course team’s “perceptions about the institutional motivation for developing technology-enabled learning, as well as more pragmatic issues of communication, planning and workload.” Students suggested that there be incentives for completing online modules and suggested that the modules were more successful when they were also referenced in class. Researchers recommended the development and sharing of guidelines for collaborative course development, in particular in active learning, and emphasized the importance of a rigorous evaluation process.

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Online students develop marketable professional skills

Two researchers at Columbia University surveyed 188 Master of Social Work students about the professional skills goals they hoped to achieve while completing online coursework at Columbia’s School of Social Work. The students identified “confidence with online technologies and environments,” “self-motivation, initiative, and independent learning,” and “experience with multiple types of online software.” The authors interviewed some of the students a year after course completion to determine the extent to which they felt that they achieved these goals. Students reported that through the process of completing these online courses they gained confidence and competence in professional online skills. As a conclusion, the authors suggest that students did have an interest in developing professional online skills and that it’s valuable for faculty and staff to encourage students to reflect on and articulate these skills. They also suggest that this study shows some of the value of online learning in professional programs. As the number of online professional programs increase, the article says it’s important to consider the particular online skills that students develop through the process of completing the programs.

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MOOC directions and research

Digging deeper into learners' experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, notetaking and contexts surrounding content consumption

This paper published in the British Journal of Educational Technology considers the limitations of depending on data mining of log files or clickstream data from within a MOOC platform to construct understandings of learner activities in open courses. In order to gain a broader perspective, the authors report on findings derived through interviews with 13 learners who talk about their experiences in MOOCs, including information on learner interaction, the use of social networks outside of the MOOC platforms and the various strategies that learners brought to the task of learning in an open environment. The authors use this information to suggest some pedagogical and technological refinements to enhance the overall quality of open teaching and learning.

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Emerging patterns in MOOCs: Learners, course designs and directions

This paper from the University of Edinburgh reviews data and analysis of learners taking Edinburgh MOOCs, including information about participation rates, learner goals and aspirations in taking these MOOCs, and considers the role that MOOCs play in the overall learning ecology at the university. The paper addresses some of the predictions that have been made about MOOCs since 2012 in light of the experiences the university has gained since then and reflects upon Edinburgh’s future directions for MOOCs.

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Are massive open online courses (MOOCs) enabling a new pedagogy?

Contact North, Ontario’s Distance Education and Training Network, recently published an article looking at the extent to which MOOCs are enabling new pedagogies. The article highlights examples of the initial progress towards MOOCs changing the way students earn credit, the ways in which MOOCs can influence faculty perceptions of online and blended learning, and the contribution of MOOCs to the quality of online learning. Regarding this last point, the article says that a crucial determinant of quality is the access to a team with specialized expertise beyond content, but that many MOOCs still fall short in terms of quality control and at the point of delivery.

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Seeking evidence of impact

Let’s not forget: Learning analytics are about learning

This paper published in the journal TechTrends considers the growing interest in the collection of data on teaching and learning interactions within learning technology platforms and the potential role that such data has in advancing our understanding of the learning process. The paper provides an overview of the field of learning analytics and then identifies some critical issues that need to be addressed through educational research to ensure that the focus of learning analytics is, in fact, upon learning, and that the computational aspects of learning analytics is more fully integrated with educational research activities.

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The next generation digital learning environment: A report on research

In this report by EDUCAUSE and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the authors explore “the gaps between current learning management tools and a digital learning environment that could meet the changing needs of higher education.” To examine these gaps, the authors interviewed 70 thought leaders about this new generation learning environment.
The researchers note that while learning management systems have had a high uptake in higher education and have proven effective for the administrative aspects of teaching, there’s a need for a digital learning ecosystem that places more emphasis on learning to meet the development of more learner centered approaches to teaching.
The next generation digital learning environment that they describe is not a single application, rather it includes multiple applications that link together. The authors suggest that these applications emphasize interoperability, collaboration, advising, universal design, accessibility, learning analytics and learning assessment.

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