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

A Nobel laureate’s education plea: Revolutionize teachingNPR interviewed Nobel laureate Carl Wieman about his work to promote active learning as a more effective teaching model over traditional lecturing. Wieman cites research showing that active learning can dramatically boost learning and says that the data is so convincing it’s almost unethical to teach undergraduate students any other way. He notes, however, that for the most part institutions still measure and value productivity and research over the quality of their teaching. The interview highlights UBC as an institution that has broadly adopted the techniques that Wieman champions, especially in the sciences. Wieman started the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at UBC in 2007 to improve education across the Faculty of Science.

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The promise of virtual reality in higher education

Georgia State University Library Administrator Bryan Sinclair and Art History Instructor Glenn Gunhouse discuss the ways that Virtual Reality (VR) may transform higher education. VR, which Gunhouse defines as “virtual spaces that you can feel inside of, and can interact with, that you…can move around freely, looking wherever you please,” has been explored and tested since the 1960s, but didn’t hit the mainstream until last year. VR can enable students to visit places that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, either because the places are too far or no longer exist. However, VR presents many technical, financial, and accessibility obstacles—for example, higher end VR products can be very costly and many classrooms lack the necessary hardware to support VR. Sinclair and Gunhouse argue that if these obstacles can be overcome, VR has the capacity for community building, interactive learning and can “connect us with the world and each other in ways never before realized.”

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Online education: A catalyst for higher education reforms

The Online Education Policy Initiative (OEPI) at MIT was developed as a follow-up to the school’s Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of Education, which explored “potential future models of teaching and learning on campus and around the world.” In this report, the OEPI examines the implications of online education on higher education, how to improve education in both online and blended learning settings, and what the implications are for universities, faculty, policy makers, funding agencies, and governments. The report provides four recommendations, which include: 1) increase interdisciplinary collaboration across fields of research in higher education (education research, Discipline-Based Education Research, social science, cognitive science, and others), using an integrated research agenda; 2) promote online as an important facilitator in higher education; 3) support the expanding profession of the “learning engineer”; and 4) foster institutional and organizational change in higher education to implement these reforms.

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More colleges turn to ‘stackable’ degrees as entries to graduate programs

With the rising cost of graduate education and a greater demand from students for cheaper and more convenient ways of learning, more post-secondary institutions are looking into “stackable degrees.” Stackable degrees can be thought of as “Lego blocks of college education, letting students start with a MOOC, then add a few more MOOCs to get an online certificate, then add yet more courses to get a traditional master’s degree.” For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently announced that students could enrol in an online master’s degree in data science, offered in conjunction with MOOC provider Coursera. The cost of the full program is $19,200—significantly less than an on-campus master’s program. A similar program was piloted several months ago at MIT, where students could earn a “micro-master’s degree” in supply chain management in conjunction with edX. EdX CEO Anant Agarwal states that edX has partnerships with other universities that will announce similar programs in the fall.

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Is video a threat to learning management systems?

Tony Bates unpacks Josh Bersin’s article "Will Video-Based Learning Kill the LMS?," which discusses the growing popularity of videos and how they should be used in education and training. Although Bersin is discussing the corporate training industry, Bates suggests that the same concepts apply in higher education. He notes that MOOCs became popular because they are video-based, thus not requiring an LMS. Similarly, in the flipped classroom, video is used to record lectures while class time is used for discussions, which again bypasses the need for an LMS. Bates argues that “good quality video is going to become an increasingly important part of online learning.” He points to “An Introduction to the Central Nervous System,” part of a series of videos that Dr. Claudia Krebs developed for her neuroanatomy lab at UBC, as an example of high-quality video. He argues that the LMS is not going away, and it would be valuable to reconsider how video is being used in post-secondary education.

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Your course accessibility checklist

Jason Khurdan, department administrator in the Office of Disability Services at Rutgers University, provides a guide to help faculty members embed accessibility into online courses. The steps, which Khurdan notes do not require faculty to become experts or exert a large amount of time and effort, are outlined in four distinct phases and include a checklist of recommendations.

  • Research phase: Meet with campus experts, including IT/LMS administrators, the office of accessibility and diversity, the library, and classroom support.
  • Development phase: Include an accessibility statement in your syllabus and ensure course documents are accessible in terms of their font type, colour, and size.
  • Design phase: Pay attention to how students are able to navigate the course.
  • Implementation phase: Communicate with your students and ensure that exams are accessible.

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Changing records of learning through innovations in pedagogy and technology

This article examines how innovations in pedagogy and technology could “revolutionize the records we use to track learning, moving our approach from one of checking off boxes to one connecting the dots.” It discusses the challenges of the conventional academic record, provides new frameworks for exploring integrative learning, and highlights technological and pedagogical models for agile, personalized evidence of learning.

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Small changes in teaching: Giving them a say

James M. Lang, professor of English and director of the Centre for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, examines ways to give students more agency in the classroom through making modest but powerful changes in teaching. Lang argues that giving students control over their learning can improve their engagement and mastery, in such a way that they “want to grasp the material for its own sake, because they find it interesting, relevant, or beautiful.” Lang proposes three changes instructors can make:

  • Student-generated exam questions: Allow students to write their own exam questions and use some proportion of those questions on the actual exam.
  • Open assessments: Give students a choice in how they are assessed within a course and which assignments they will need to complete.
  • Class constitutions: Work with students to develop a set of ground rules and allow students to help shape the curriculum.

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Analysis of the data-driven MOOC literature published in 2013-2015

A new paper addresses a number of gaps in the scholarly understanding of MOOCs by analyzing empirical literature published between 2013-15. The paper examines factors such as geographic distribution of the studies, publication outlets, data collection and analysis methods. Among some of the results found were that the majority of studies were written by people from North American and European institutions, and researchers favoured a quantitative if not positivist approach to MOOC research, preferring to collect data via surveys and automated methods. It was also noted that there is little research that examines the experiences of learner subpopulations (e.g. those who succeed vs. those who don’t; men vs. women). The paper makes recommendations for researchers studying MOOC-related topics and aims to enable researchers to make better sense of the empirical literature on MOOCs. They note that the implications of the study are not just important for MOOC research, but research on educational technology in general.

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Flexible Learning
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