Tag Archives: technology

Bill Gates on Higher Education

Microsft founder Bill Gates recently spoke on the topic of higher education in an interview.  Bill believes that the web, not a single university, will provide the best education in the future. 

“Five years from now on the web for free you’ll be able to find the best lectures in the world. It will be better than any single university,”

Bill doesn’t come out and say it directly, but he hints at a world where ‘learners’ can get everything they need in terms of an education from the web, without enrolling in a university (even an online university).  I’m not sure I buy into this, but I do think we can find ways, via technology, to link students from PSU with, say, students from Michigan, other Big Ten schools, Ivy leagues schools and even universities around the world.  We already support exchange student programs, why not work out a way to support students that want to take a specific course PSU does not offer, but another university in the Big Ten does?  Penn State is already doing something similar to this with the elearning cooperative, helping students at all PSU campuses interact within a course supported by technology. 

The second issue that jumped to mind after reading a highlight of Bill’s interview is the role of the instructor.  In the last 5-7 years, I believe the instructor (in certain contexts and courses) is better suited to act more as a facilitator than the traditional ‘fountain of knowledge.’  The idea that the student’s mind is an empty glass and the instructor is the individual responsible for filling it feels dated.  In some courses, this model is necessary.  But in other courses, acting as a facilitator, encouraging and motivating students to be responsible for their own learning, feels like a much more powerful method to engage students. Following Bill’s logic, a student simply learning on the web has no facilitator, no knowledge expert to address questions or encourage the student to explore different knowledge areas.  The instructor will always be a key figure in higher education, although the skillsets required to be a great instructor might be changing…

New copyright allows Profs to show video clips with fewer restrictions

Today, an article in InsideHigher (see: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/07/28/copyright) discussed how professors will now have an easier time showing videos in class for academic use.

Per the article:

“One change in particular is making waves in academe: an exemption that allows professors in all fields and “film and media studies students” to hack encrypted DVD content and clip “short portions” into documentary films and “non-commercial videos.” (The agency does not define “short portions.”)

This means that any professors can legally extract movie clips and incorporate them into lectures, as long as they are willing to decrypt them — a task made relatively easy by widely available programs known as “DVD rippers.””

As far as general video resources go for faculty, here are some options that are popular for classroom use:





Learning Design Summer Camp 2010

Tomorrow is the third annual Learning Design Summer Camp, bringing together designers, technologists, faculty and other interesting Penn Staters for a day of interesting discussion in the IST Cybertorium.  A few of us here in the Institute have been examining what we call “Penn State’s Technology Ecosystem“, specifically focusing on Undergraduate Education.  Tomorrow at 1:00, I’ll be presenting in room 106 on our initial findings.

In a nutshell, we took data from two Penn State technology platforms: Wikispaces and Blogs@PSU.  This data was then combined with institutional data from Penn State’s data warehouse.  Some of the questions I’ll be exploring during the session tomorrow afternoon include:

  • What are the profiles of students that tend to use this technology?
  • What faculty are using these platforms? How are they using them?
  • Where are we, as a university, in terms of adoption?
  • What Colleges/Departments are already using these platforms in a pedagogically-sound way? (with examples)
  • What sort of impact are these platforms having on student performance?

After the presentation, I will put the finishing touches on a document outlining our initial findings and post a link here on where  you can download a copy of the report.  Already, we’re seeing some very interesting trends with the use of both platforms across the university with a positive impact on student performance! 

Technology’s impact on student learning

I found an interesting article in the Chronicle today titled “Is Technology Making Your Students Stupid?“, a short interview with Nicholas Carr, a Colorado writer.  Overall, it’s an interesting read.  Carr has a psychology background, and comes at the topic from the school of thought that the brain is malleable and adaptable through life experiences, something often referred to as neuroplasticity.  Carr sites many observations regarding the use of technology in learning contexts, focusing primarily on studies and anecdotes that found things like multitasking and using laptops in classrooms hurts student learning.  One very interesting finding he mentions is the use of online archives for academic journals.  Carr points out that, in some instances, this is hurting academia, mostly research, as a whole.  The idea is that we, as researchers using online search to find journals, are increasingly led to the same citations based on popularity.

“…we become so dependent on search, and the results from searches are determined by popularity of one sort or another. And the risk of using search for online research is that everybody gets led in the same directions to a smaller number of citations which, as they become ever more popular, become the destination for more and more searches.”

The article touches briefly on social media, where Carr simply wants to make sure educators aren’t making assumptions that all social media is good for education.  This leads me to some numbers we’ve uncovered with our research into the use of blogs@PSU. We ran a cluster analysis on the the student blog data, which led to three distinct groups:

  • Infrequent users
  • Comment-dominant users
  • Entry-dominant users

When we begin to examine the GPA of these users, we see that infrequent users average a 3.21, comment-dominated users a 3.38, and entry-dominant users a 3.56.  Now, this isn’t saying that blogs lead to better GPAs; rather the reverse.  People with high GPAs tend to post more entries in the blog space.  We took a smaller sample from this data, examining students using the blogs that were admitted to PSU in Fall 07. We then examined when these students began blogging, placed each student into one of the above 3 groups, and examined their GPA curve over time.  We haven’t completed the analysis yet, but it does appear that entry-dominant users, from the time they start blogging, start to see positive gains to GPA. 

We’re working on a report now that details some of this information as well as data on the use of PSU’s wikispaces. Stay tuned for the release of the first draft towards the end of the summer.

Avatars to Teach the Teachers


In the July 7, 2010 issue of InsideHigherEd linked above, avatars in Second Life are being used to emulate students such that teachers-in-training can learn to instruct and manage their behaviors.

“Dieker and the TeachME team — which includes members of the university’s education, engineering, computer science, mathematics, and theater departments — believe they have created a virtual classroom so real-seeming that it could drastically improve how prepared novice teachers are by the time they venture into the blackboard jungle as student teachers — and in so doing, reduce teacher turnover by weeding out likely candidates for burnout.”

Designed for preparing public education teachers, this technology may have useful ramifications for college faculty as well. Keep your eyes open! Wouldn’t it be cool if teaching and learning centers set up virtual classrooms as part of their “Course in College Teaching”?

…”most importantly, it could limit the students’ exposure to underprepared, ineffective teachers. And, the team assumes, improve learning outcomes.”

The Changing Nature of Privacy

I wrote in the past about observations on FERPA and student privacy here at Penn State. Already, I see too many instances where students are seeking jobs and/or internships only to be denied by their inappropriate use of social media. For the most part, I was only thinking of students.

Today, a colleague passed me an article relating to social media and divorce cases. An interesting stat from the article:

“The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81% of its members have used or faced evidence plucked from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking sites…over the last five years”

I had no doubt people were being singled out in marital cases for their use of social media, but I had no clue the percent would be this high.  In all my time as a teacher I continually stressed responsible use of social media and to constantly be vigilant and up-to-date with privacy settings.  Now, as a faculty consultant working in a teaching center, I really wonder if we should be spending more time educating faculty on the same topics, ensuring they do not have information or artifacts in publicly available social spaces that might get them, or the university, in ethical or legal dilemmas.  Does anyone know if other Teacher Centers in the US are actively educating faculty on the use of Facebook and social media in terms of managing their own identity online?

Powerpoint: the right tool for the job?

I recently stumbled onto a great dialog around a New York Times article titled ‘We have the met the enemy and he is PowerPoint‘.  The articles goes into detail about various uses of PPT, particularly in the military, and how it is often abused.  This sparked Ron Burns, CEO or virtual world platform provider Proton Media, to post some thoughts on leveraging 3-D spaces vs. 2-D PPTs in many situations.  Ron’s post then prompted some other industry folks from the likes if Microsoft and Cisco to weigh in on the discussion of PPT vs. 3-D alternatives. 

You can read all the blog posts in the discussion over on Proton Media’s blog.

Personally, I do see and agree with a lot of their points.  But the roadblocks for the shift are rather large:

  • Time to develop a similar message in a 3D space is longer, especially for those without experience.
  • The comfort factor of PPT.  People create PPT presentations frequently and (arguably) know the tool.
  • Custom software required for both presenters and audience members, including account creation processes, if using 3D software.

We’re still going to see continued growth in the 3D space in business and education, but we have some early hurdles that need addressed for most of our audiences to get past the early adopter phase. 

Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS)

Today Cole passed along a link to Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) group. I had never heard of CNDLS before, but after taking a look at their website it represents a great model for how teaching centers can embrace the changes to pedagogy technology may bring with a very research-centered approach.  I particularly liked the website, both from its visual appeal as well as the organization of information.  For instance, the project portfolio section.  This provides guests with a great snapshot of all the projects associated with CNDLS, and links to go deeper into specific project cases that might be of interest. 

One initiative I particularly like is “Teaching to the whole person“.  This initiative sounds very similar to what we aim for here in the Schreyer Institute, but the final bullet caught me by surprise, “addressing the affective and emotional dimensions of student learning“.  Unfortunately the CNDLS website doesn’t unpack that statement or provide much more detail or meaning to this. How would you unpack it? 

Augmented Reality and Learning

A colleague from ETS just sent me a link to a fantastic YouTube video demonstrating the power of Augmented Reality applications for learning.  This type of application could really open doors for online learning, large course experiments and so many other contexts that some consider challenging to incorporate experiential learning elements.