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

Open educational practice: Unleashing the potential of OER
In this opinion piece, TJ Bliss examines the growth of open educational resource adoption and the importance of open educational practice. Bliss, a Program Officer in the Education Program at the Hewlett Foundation, argues that in addition to the economic benefit of OER for students, it is important to look at open educational practice (OEP), or open pedagogy. Open pedagogy involves leveraging open licensing to involve students in the creation and adaption of OER. He points to examples such as the Wikimedia Foundation, which has an in-house project that encourages faculty and students around the world to edit and author Wikipedia articles in an academic setting. Early evidence has found that open pedagogy is an effective way for students to learn; in April 2016, students contributed to six percent of all edits across all of the science-related articles on Wikipedia. “This means,” Bliss says, “tens of thousands of students are engaging in authentic learning experiences by creating—not just consuming—knowledge.”

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Opening the textbook: Open education resources in U.S. higher education, 2015-16A new report from the Babson Survey Research Group reviews the use of open educational resources (OER) by faculty in the United States. Over 3,000 higher education teaching faculty provided survey responses. Key findings showed that awareness of OER has increased—25 percent of faculty reported they were “Aware” or “Very Aware” of open educational resources, up from 20 percent last year. However, the use of open resources is low overall, with only 5.3 percent of courses using open textbooks. “There is potential for growth for OER, as many faculty report that they are willing to try these resources,” states Dr. Jeff Seaman, co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group. “However, while faculty cite costs to the student more than any other factor in selecting educational materials, concerns about the time and effort it takes to find and evaluate these materials remains a significant barrier to wider adoption.”

Flexible Learning Trends

Three ways virtual reality can enhance learningIn this EDUCAUSE video, Maya Georgieva, co-founder and partner, Digital Bodies – Immersive Learning, and Emory Craig, director, eLearning at The College of New Rochelle, look at ways in which virtual reality can enhance learning.
  1. New learning experience: Virtual reality introduces physicality to learning. Georgieva points to Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, which has created an experience around ocean acidification. Participants have the opportunity to walk the shore and see the impact of what is happening in the environment.
  2. Bringing people together: Affordable consumer devices will soon be available to the public. With virtual reality, Georgieva notes that conversations can “transcend the classroom, the campus, [and] connect us globally.”
  3. A new language of film: Virtual reality is changing the film industry. In higher education, Craig says we will have to think about “What kind of media do…we produce? What kind of media do we have our students watch? How do you use this media?” 
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Toward renewable assessments

David Wiley, chief academic officer of Lumen Learning and education fellow at Creative Commons writes a blog post about ways to add value to students’ assignments. Wiley advocates for renewable assessments, where “the student’s work won’t be discarded at the end of the process, but will instead add value to the world in some way.” He points to a course offered at UBC, SPAN 312 (“Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation”). Students developed and contributed Wikipedia articles, with the goal of bringing a selection of articles to featured article status. Featured articles are considered the best articles Wikipedia has to offer, as determined by Wikipedia’s editors. Wiley notes that one of “the most powerful part of renewable assignments is the idea that everyone wants their work to matter…Given the opportunity, people want to contribute something, to give something back, to pay it forward, to make the world a better place, to make a difference.” Wiley argues that replacing disposable assessments with renewable assessments can re-humanize education and give students the opportunity to care about and invest in their work. 

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Digital, verified, and less open

This article, from Inside Higher Ed, looks at how a growing number of colleges are using digital badges as a means to show achievement of skills that may not be evident from transcripts. They point to Illinois State University, which was an early adopter of badges. Students in the university’s honors program have earned around 7,400 digital badges in the past year from Credly, a badging platform provider. Students can control which badges are public, and the aim is to help students position themselves with potential employers or graduate programs. Badges include both curricular and cocurricular experiences and achievements, such as seminar courses, lab work, internships, or volunteer work. To earn a badge, students submit evidence of their learning or skills. Illinois State administrators believe the badge augments the traditional degree. Amy Oberts, the honors program’s associate director states, “The artifacts created by students become the evidence of learning that is evaluated by instructors and, at the discretion of the student, shared with future employers.”

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Students' use of laptops in class lowers grades: Canadian studyA recent Canadian study from the journal Computers & Education suggests that using computers during lectures may negatively affect post-secondary students’ grades. In the study, research subjects in two experiments attended a university-level lecture and completed a multiple-choice quiz on what they learned. In the first experiment, all participants used laptops to take notes. Half of the participants were also asked to complete a series of unrelated tasks, such as online searches, when they felt they had spare time. This was meant to mimic what distracted students might do during class. In the second experiment, some students used pencils and paper to take notes while others worked on laptops. “We really tried to make it pretty close to what actually happens in the lectures,” Faria Sana, co-author of the study said. “Students who multitasked performed much worse on the final test and those who were seated around peers who were multitasking also performed much worse on the final test.” 

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Blended/online learning orientations: Recommendations for design

A study from the University of Texas at San Antonio examines what is needed to prepare students for blended/online courses. The researchers note that, while more online courses have been offered over the last year, the process of preparing students for online and blended courses is inconsistent across institutions. The team conducted a literature review of strategies used by institutions to prepare students for blended/online courses. They found that the design and implementation of blended/online classes lack uniformity and many institutions use generic tools and strategies, if any, for orienting students to blended/online courses. In a time where most things are customized, the researchers argue that “institutions of high­er education have an opportunity to support student success by customiz­ing their preparation to complete courses in a variety of delivery modes.” 

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MOOCs as tools for equity in under-resourced high schools

This article by Education Dive discusses two projects that are adapting the edX platform to support the needs of high school students and teachers. Boston University’s Project Accelerate is looking at whether their AP Physics MOOC can be effectively used to provide Advanced Placement physics instruction to at-risk students who may otherwise be unable to take the class. A similar initiative, Davidson Next, is being run out of Davidson College in North Carolina. The team has created modules for several AP courses, with content being developed by high school teachers who have written AP curricula and exams and/or graded AP exams. Daniel Seaton, a research scientist in Harvard’s Office of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning states, “What differentiates [the projects] from other MOOC creators is they’re actively trying to find ways to take that content and integrate it into traditional settings. People are catching on that the edX platform can be used in many, many different ways than just open online.” 

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Flexible Learning
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