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. Open Education
2. Flexible Learning Trends
3. MOOCs

Open education

Exploring faculty use of open educational resources at British Columbian post-secondary institutionsThis research report, developed by BCcampus and the OER Hub, examines the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) by post-secondary faculty in British Columbia. Faculty in research-intensive universities, teaching-intensive universities, and colleges/institutes were surveyed; the research examines their motivations, perceptions, and factors that help to enable or challenge OER use and adaption. Among some of the selected key findings were:
  • Faculty at research-intensive universities were more likely to adapt and create OER
  • The top three reasons faculty reported for using OER were for ideas and inspiration; to supplement existing coursework; and to prepare for teaching
  • The most frequently used types of OER were videos, images, and open textbooks

With the ever-increasing costs of textbooks, students at UBC have also become more vocal about student-led open education advocacy.

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Flexible learning trends

Reimagining online education Steven Mintz, Executive Director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning (ITL), looks at ways that online learning needs to move beyond being an imitation of face-to-face learning. Mintz says that four key aspects of education need to be rethought: motivation, learning acquisition, the student experience, and assessment. The ITL has designed online experiences using an approach that is outcome driven, modularized, personalized, gamified, and activity based. Mintz discusses how their approach is “highly supportive of social learning, including cohorting, peer mentoring, and collaborative problem solving.”

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Six trajectories for digital technology in higher education

Malcolm Brown, Director of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, discusses six trajectories of digital technology, which are “enabling the ambitious goal of a responsive, personalized digital learning environment for higher education.” Brown notes three characteristics of teaching and learning that provide context for discussing these trajectories: personalization of learning, adoption of hybrid learning models, and analysis of ever-increasing amounts of data. The six trajectories Brown suggests are:

  • Device ownership and mobile-first
  • The textbook and open educational resources
  • Adaptive learning technology
  • Learning spaces
  • The next-generation learning management system
  • Integrated planning and advising services
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The NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition

The New Media Consortium (NMC), in collaboration with the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, has released their 2016 NMC Horizon Report. The report describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project that identifies and describes emerging technologies that will likely impact education. It considers what is on the five-year horizon for higher education institutions, what developments will occur, and what challenges will need to be overcome. The report discusses trends, such as increased use of blended learning and redesigning learning spaces; challenges, including improving digital literacy and blending formal and informal learning; and technology developments, such as Bring Your Own Device and augmented reality.

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Beyond active learning: Transformation of the learning space

Mark Valenti, president and CEO of The Sextant Group, discusses how learning spaces are evolving. New learning spaces, he notes, are occurring as a result of the evolving “ecosystem of education,” including changing student demographics, technology advances, economic pressures on higher education, and increasing demands from employers. Employers and educators are now putting more focus on competencies such as teamwork, communication, and critical thinking. Valenti argues that learning spaces need to support students in developing these skills. As the millennial generation arrives on campuses, they are compelling higher education leaders to communicate and educate in ways that meet their needs. Valenti suggests that, “the next generation of learning spaces will take all the characteristics of an active learning environment—flexibility, collaboration, team-based, project-based—and add the capability of creating and making.” 

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New challenges to active learning initiatives

Case Western Reserve University developed an active learning initiative in 2013 and is now reviewing feedback and findings from the program after its second year. Twelve faculty members participated in a year-long Active Learning Fellowship (ALF) through the program to design or redesign a class, with the goal of increasing student engagement and success. When possible, faculty were assigned to classrooms that optimized collaboration. Students in fellowship courses reported more active engagement, and those in active learning classrooms had a greater enthusiasm for the course. However, active learning techniques applied in traditional classrooms were unpopular with students, indicating that further variables, such as instructor experience, class size, and type of classroom, need to be examined in the next year. 

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The limits of open

Massive open online course (MOOC) provider Coursera has shifted its business model to include courses, called Specializations, which charge up front. Typically, learners can access courses for free, or pay a fee for a course certificate upon completion. In the newest Coursera offerings, learners can “explore” course materials, but must pay to turn the materials into an actual course. Some industry researchers see this as an example of for-profit MOOC providers, such as Coursera, clearly distinguishing themselves from nonprofit providers, such as edX. In a blog post, Coursera explained, “the changes…will move us toward sustainability and enable continued investment in our learning experience.” However, others see the company as “playing a short-term venture capital game” rather than focusing on improving access to education.

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MOOCs and crowdsourcing: Massive courses and massive resources

New research suggests that there are fundamental similarities between massive open online courses (MOOCs) and crowdsourcing phenomena. While MOOCs have been researched primarily in the context of education, and crowdsourcing has been looked at in the context of IT, the two fields share characteristics such as “large scale participation, IT mediation, knowledge generating capabilities, presence of intermediary service providers, and techniques designed to attract and maintain participant activity.” The findings propose new directions for future research in both domains and suggests that each field can learn from the other.

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Flexible Learning
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