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. Open Education
3. MOOCs
4. Learning Analytics

Flexible Learning Trends

One size doesn’t fit all: HyFlex lets students choose

To improve students’ learning and experience, a team at Ohio State University redesigned a large intro-level economics course to give students more choice and to improve efficiency in course management. The team adopted a hybrid, flexible (HyFlex) format, which gives students the option of attending class in person or via the Internet. Students could ask questions and provide feedback through a student response system, which also recorded their attendance. While there was no performance difference between those who attended online versus those who attended in class, the majority of students reported that the instructional technology used in the course helped them learn. The team concluded that, “technology can help instructors teach the subject, rather than the course, and can help students experience the benefit of smaller courses while enabling departments to continue the benefits and efficiencies of large-enrolment courses.”

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Introducing backchannel technology into a large undergraduate course

A new study from the University of Guelph examines the effectiveness of backchannel technology, which allows students in large lecture courses to communicate with each other and the instructor during class. Traditionally, an instructor presenting in the front of the room can be seen as the “front channel,” where information travels from instructor to learners. However, a backchannel “improves communication by facilitating a new flow of information as the learners, traditionally the receivers of information, become active senders.” The researchers integrated backchannel software into one section of an introductory first-year course on family and couple relationships, while the second section did not have backchannel technology. Both groups were compared using online surveys and semester grades. Results showed that the section using backchannel software had higher class satisfaction, used their mobile devices more for accessing class content, felt more comfortable participating in class discussions, and had a higher grade average.

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The future of faculty development in a networked world

This article examines the importance of personalized learning, not only for students, but also for faculty learning emerging technologies. Personalized learning fosters learner agency and allows students to become content creators and curators, rather than simply consumers. The authors suggest that faculty development needs to be envisioned in a way that emphasizes the same engagement and outcomes, where personalized learning is put “into the framework of connected learning, with faculty becoming networked learners within and across institutions.” Connected learning has three primary learning principles: 1) shared purpose, where peers who share interests contribute to a common purpose; 2) production-centred, where opportunities are provided for learners to produce, circulate, curate, and comment on media; and 3) openly networked, where institutions and groups across various sectors are linked together.

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A moment of clarity on the role of technology in teaching

Phil Hill, co-publisher of the e-Literate blog, looks at the importance of effective learning design in online learning. He points to a recent report by the MIT Online Education Policy Initiative which discusses how “online education and online tools can enable advances in effective pedagogical approaches, including constructivism, active learning, flipped classrooms, problem-based learning, and student-centered education.” However, he says, education needs to be backed by sound pedagogical design. Hill discusses a recent lawsuit against George Washington University for negligence and misleading claims. Four students who took an online master’s degree in security and safety leadership alleged that the classes did not have instruction from professors assigned to the course and that materials were taken from other instructors’ in-class lessons. Hill suggests that the lawsuit and the MIT report make the case for institutions to be intentional about learning design in online learning. He writes, “The challenge is how to get the organization—at the institutional level or at the program level—to identify and expand ideas that work based on sound learning design and real evaluation of what works and what doesn’t.”

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New workers, new skillsMarina Gorbis, executive director of the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley non-profit research and consulting organization, examines the skills that students should be acquiring from their educational experience given the changing world of work. She describes how new worker categories are emerging, where people “are thinking about making a living in new ways and…are putting work into a very different context.” The skills she identifies include sense-making, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, media literacy, and transdisciplinarity. Gorbis argues that educators need to think about what skills students will need in the changing world of work. While some skills may not be strictly academic in nature, they can be thought of as life skills. Gorbis states that “educational institutions can help prepare students for the new terrain of work by rethinking curriculum and providing experiences and learning opportunities that enable students to develop such skills.”

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Experiential learning, agile employees: Getting our students on the right pathIn an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, Dave McKay, chief executive officer of the Royal Bank of Canada, advocates for the importance of experiential learning for students. In the changing world of technology, demographics, and social values, McKay argues that universities need to emphasize work-integrated learning. He states, “This is a hands-on generation. They like to experiment, to challenge and to share.” Work-integrated learning, he says, could also improve economic access for minority groups, such as new Canadians and indigenous peoples. “Work placements get students in front of employers and act as a social leveller,” he says. McKay suggests that a new national goal be enacted to ensure that all Canadian undergraduate students experience some form of experiential learning before they graduate. “Expanding access to experiential learning is a national challenge that can be addressed only when universities, colleges, business and government work together.”

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Open Education

Active OER: Beyond open licensing policiesAlek Tarkowski, co-founder of Creative Commons Poland, argues that open education needs to focus more on creating active policies that support engagement with open resources. Tarkowski suggests that open education has been too focused on strategies that ensure content is open and aligned with David Wiley’s 5 Rs of openness. However, he argues that “scale of usage, and not just the number of available resources, should be our key metric of success.” According to Tarkowski, the goal should be to empower and engage educators and learners through active policies, which could include “incentives for teachers to create, reuse and share OER, investing in repositories and other types of infrastructure for discovery and analytics of content, or paying attention to digital literacy of teachers and formulation of new pedagogies.”

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Even psychologists respond to meaningless rewards

The journal Psychological Science has adopted three Center for Open Science badges to be awarded to papers that use open and transparent practices. The badges, awarded for open data, open materials, and preregistration, are seen as a “low-cost way to encourage and reward good research practices.” Brian Nosek, co-founder of the Center for Open Science, explained that the badges exploit a psychological phenomenon of signalling good behaviour. Nosek states that the badges give researchers “a visible means to communicate information about their identities, beliefs, values and behaviors.” Nosek’s team reports that since Psychological Science adopted the badges, data sharing has significantly increased. Eric Eich, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President Academic Affairs at UBC, argues that badges can make “a meaningful difference in authors’ willingness to share relevant materials and data.” However, he states that the ultimate goal is for researchers to routinely provide public access to their data and materials, at which point the badge program can be retired.

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This Mongolian teenager aced a MOOC. Now he wants to widen their impact.

In this podcast, Battushig Myanganbayar, who became known four years ago for acing a massive open online course at the age of 15, revisits his views of MOOCs. The course that Myanganbayar took, about circuits and electronics, was one of the first MOOCs offered by MIT. At the time, he became a poster child for the role of MOOCs in increasing educational access in the developing world. Myanganbayar, now a junior majoring in computer science and electrical engineering at MIT, is still a fan of MOOCs but questions the value of MOOCs in the developing world and raises questions about how online learning could be more effective. He states that the “knowledge alone is useless without the opportunity to build or show or to use it.” He notes that in the developing world, MOOCs are like reading books—while the information may be useful and interesting, without having community resources, the knowledge gained cannot be applied. Myanganbayar suggests that one way MOOCs could be more effective is for colleges or other institutions to build maker spaces in developing countries where students could put their knowledge into practice.

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Learning Analytics

Learning analytics in higher education: A review of UK and international practice

A new report from Jisc documents the emerging uses of learning analytics in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Learning analytics refers to “the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about the progress of learners and the contexts in which learning takes place.” According to the report, the key ways that learning analytics can be used is: as a tool for quality assurance and quality improvement; as a tool for boosting retention rates; as a tool for assessing and acting upon differential outcomes among the student population; and as an enabler for the development and introduction of adaptive learning. The report looks at eleven case studies, which point to the impact that analytics are having on teaching and learning. Case studies include analyzing social networks at the University of Wollongong, personalized pathway planning at Open Universities Australia, and identifying at-risk students at the New York Institute of Technology.

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