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

College students take to Wikipedia to rewrite the wrongs of Internet science
This Los Angeles Times article, on instructors using Wikipedia in science classes, explores the potential benefits of using Wikipedia as a teaching and learning tool. More professors are realizing the potential of Wikipedia—student assignments, previously only read once by an instructor or teaching assistant, can be turned into comprehensive and accurate Wikipedia entries for the general public. Professors are noting the importance of open, transparent, and understandable science and are finding new ways to train students to be better communicators. Eryk Salvaggio of the Wiki Education Foundation states, “College students are in this great sweet spot where they're picking up a lot of knowledge about science in their field, but they're also still connected to that sense of not knowing. That's a great time to write for the general audience.” So far this year, 240 college science classrooms in Canada and the United States have improved the content of more than 2,500 Wikipedia articles and created 247 new articles. The pages have been viewed more than 81 million times. 

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Flexible Learning Trends

Online classes get a missing piece: TeamworkEdSurge explores a new tool that enables learners to interact with each other in online classes. Using the tool, named Bazaar, students complete lab exercises in teams created through algorithmic matching. When students complete a lesson, they can enter an online chat room, where a chatbot prompts discussion and reflection among classmates. Bazaar will be piloted this fall with approximately 200 students in introductory statistics courses offered at six California community colleges. According to the Community College Research Center, students in online classes at community colleges drop out at higher rates compared to face-to-face courses. Barbara Illowsky, a professor at De Anza College in California, sees the potential the tool may have in helping students stay invested in their courses. “I’m hoping that [students] learn how to collaborate online more, as opposed to just discussions where they’re posting a question and answering, posting and answering,” she says. “The bottom line is improved understanding of the course.”

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Why the undergraduate years should include a research experience

University Affairs looks at the benefits of providing students with an opportunity to do research in their undergraduate years. Undergraduate research, as defined by the Council on Undergraduate Research, is “anything where there’s hands-on, inquiry-based learning.” Research involves students actively learning and gaining skills that may be useful in further education or the job market. This can occur in the community, in labs, or while completing class assignments. Universities benefit because students can bring fresh insight into research, and “since undergrads usually take an array of courses, they’re naturally more inclined to find interdisciplinary links.” While universities are starting to direct more funding and resources into undergraduate research, they are not yet able to meet student demand. According to the article, the structure of these institutions is not built around undergrads doing research and requires the classroom and curriculum to be rethought.

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University may remove online content to avoid disability law

The University of California, Berkeley has announced that it may eliminate free online content following an order from the U.S. Justice Department to make materials accessible for those with disabilities. The content under scrutiny is free and open to the general public and involves 26 MOOCs provided through the edX platform, 543 videos on Berkeley’s YouTube channel, and 99 lectures on iTunes University. Following complaints by two individuals who are deaf, an investigation found that the materials violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires college materials to be accessible to people with disabilities. Some of the concerns included the absence of video captions and alternative ways to access images or visual information, such as audio description. The university has not made a final decision, but stated that it may not have the budget to comply with the recommendations on how to make the materials accessible.

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Tweeting your way to tenureA recent report by the American Sociology Association examines why it may be useful to consider social media and public communication in tenure and promotion decisions. The report, called What Counts? Evaluating Public Communication in Tenure and Promotion, notes that public communication is beneficial for advancing scholarly knowledge and methods, and for expanding the visibility and relevance of the discipline. The report suggests that departments consider including a public communication criterion for tenure and promotion beyond the three traditional categories of teaching, research, and service, or recognize and reward public engagement within the categories. Because public communication may be time-consuming, the report advocates “only that which clearly supports and enhances research, teaching, service, professional development and stewardship to the public should be embraced.”

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7 things to know about blockchain

This EDUCAUSE resource looks at the potential use of blockchain in higher education. Blockchain is a public, distributed, unchangeable digital ledger. It consists of a series of “blocks,” which each contain data or transactions and are linked to all previous blocks so users can see and verify the entire history of a set of records. While best known for being the foundation of Bitcoin, there is increasing attention on its use in higher education. Blockchain may present a new way of tracking academic performance using the transcript. In a blockchain transcript, for example, people with verified credentials could have access to a student’s records, students could access their own records, and they could regulate which parts of their records can be seen by different users. Blockchain may also allow for a more dynamic way of recording academic achievement. By including alternative credentials, such as badges or extracurricular achievements, a blockchain transcript can “[reveal] not only what students have done but also where their interests lie and where they could take their careers.”

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Leveraging knowledge for 21st century teaching and learningThe Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has released a report detailing their findings on “emerging ways of teaching and learning to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving society and labour markets.” Activities for the report began in January 2015 with SSHRC engaging researchers, sector leaders and graduate students. Among the findings detailed in the report are: traditional teaching and learning techniques are challenged in a technology-mediated environment; new technologies can increase the access to—and flexibility of—learning, while also bridging the gap between knowledge and community; and appropriate teacher training and tools, flexibility, and incentives support educators at all levels in immersing themselves in innovative, student-centered and collaborative approaches. The majority of the findings called for stronger connections to support learning across jurisdictions and disciplines. 


Online ‘micro-master’s’ programs extend their reach

This article, from The Chronicle of Higher Education, looks at the growth of micro-master’s online degrees. Micro-master’s programs are a series of short online courses that learners can take, roughly equivalent to between a quarter to a half of the course material in a typical master’s degree. Last fall, MIT piloted a micro-master’s in supply-chain management, and now more than a dozen colleges have announced similar programs. The colleges are part of the edX consortium, which helps institutions deliver free MOOCs. MOOC providers Coursera and edX are shifting towards professional education, and according to the article, “many selective colleges have been refining their MOOC efforts and now see short-form credentials as a way to use large-scale online courses for marketing and new revenue.” 

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Flexible Learning
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Vancouver, BC, Canada, V6T 1Z2

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