Monday, March 30, 2015

Active Learning Classrooms

Active Learning Classrooms (also Technology-Enhanced Active Learning Classrooms, or Flipped Classrooms) change how students and faculty interact in the classroom. In an Active Learning Classroom, work previously done in the classroom is now done outside the classroom, and activities traditionally done outside now occur in the classroom. Students learn in a more engaged model on their own, typically through recorded lecture or interactive media, then return to the Active Learning Classroom to interact with a cohort of other students to exercise what they have learned.

Through Active Learning Classrooms, student performance is often improved, students are more engaged, and students have direct access to their instructor when working through exercises (instead of having no one to ask when working alone, or when working in late-night study groups).

However, Active Learning Classrooms are not a panacea in education. In an Active Learning Classrooms mode, students must complete the prep work before class, faculty must restructure courses to support flipped classrooms, and institutions must provide spaces suitable for Active Learning Classrooms. Access to technology may also be a hindrance, both in the classroom (when faculty must work through technical glitches on their own) and in the dorm (students must have a computer to watch the recorded lectures).

An article from January's EDUCAUSE Review examines active learning classrooms at Case Western University. The article provides this overview: "In 2013, Case Western Reserve University developed an active learning initiative designed to help faculty use active learning instructional methods in two new learning spaces that were optimized for collaborative classroom learning with large movable computer displays, flexible furniture, shared writing surfaces. and so on. Through a yearlong Active Learning Fellowship, a group of 12 faculty members restructured one class each to include active learning techniques and thereby increase student engagement and success in the classroom."

You should read the article for the full background and results. In summary, the group found that students felt more engaged in Active Learning Classrooms. Students reported the new classroom "was valuable to them, increased their enthusiasm for the course, and positively affected their learning An especially interesting finding was that the majority of students … said they would prefer the surveyed course be taught in the same way in the future."

This is not the first study to discover that students prefer Active Learning Classrooms. A 2013 article from The Atlantic reported on a three-year study examining student performance in an Active Learning Classroom, and found student performance "improved by 2.5 percent between 2011 and 2012 … and by an additional 2.6 percent in 2013. Overall, student performance … improved between 2011 and 2013 by 5.1 percent. Students also came to prefer the flipped model to the lecture model. While 75 percent of students in 2012 said, before Mumper’s class, that they preferred lectures, almost 90 percent of students said they preferred the flipped model after the class."

At Morris, our faculty are beginning to use Active Learning Classrooms, although adoption is currently limited. I'm excited to see our experiment with Active Learning Classrooms at Morris. For example, Nancy Carpenter (Chemistry) took a year to restructure her lectures to use an Active Learning Classroom. Plant Services, Computing Services, and Instructional & Media Technology worked in partnership with the Division of Science & Math to rebuild one of the Science classrooms as a flexible Active Learning Classroom. The new space uses whiteboards throughout the room, two projectors, tablets, and flexible-use tables to create a flipped classroom—which can also be used as a traditional lecture room by other faculty who are not ready to adopt the Active Learning Classroom mode.

We've been using the new classroom since last Fall. This Spring, just before the break, I had an opportunity to meet with students to see how they liked using the new Active Learning Classroom. Feedback was very positive. Echoing the EDUCAUSE article, students said they felt more engaged, and they got more out of the class. The students said they would prefer more STEM classes be taught using an Active Learning Classroom mode, but suggested that traditional "lecture" classes would not benefit—or at least, would require significant retooling. I noted that none of the students had a laptop out; they said they just didn't have time to use them in class, they were too busy learning and working with groups to goof off. I think that's a great testimonial!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Adobe Acrobat Pro

Matt recently shared this announcement, which I wanted to repeat here:

You may have seen the headline in the U of M Brief this week, announcing the "site license" for Adobe Acrobat Pro. As of today, all Windows-based desktops and laptops bound/managed by AD on the Morris campus can voluntarily/self-install this application at no charge via Software Center (Start → All Programs → Microsoft System Center 2012 R2 → Configuration Manager → Software Center). As many of you know, the additional PDF management tools available via the Pro version of Acrobat will provide a huge productivity boost for many users on our campus.

Please note this application is being provided as available and not as a required installation. Users will need to be guided to Software Center and/or have a support tech help/talk them through. If you are aware of units where all workstations will benefit from a required installation, please let me know and I can work through those details. At this time I do not anticipate forcing a deployment of Acrobat Pro to all faculty and staff workstations.

Workstations not managed by AD are unaffected by this change, and would need to follow the standard download and installation instructions (linked from the Brief excerpt below).
Adobe® Acrobat® Pro available at no charge
Adobe® Acrobat® Pro software is available on University-owned devices at no charge to departments. The software makes it easy to create web forms as well as convert, edit, and merge files. For computers managed by central IT, select Adobe Acrobat Pro from "Advertised Programs" on your computer. For units not managed by central IT, visit and select "Office and Productivity." Learn more about IT Services>

Anticipating emerging technology

An article from the January edition of EDUCAUSE Review discusses Managing constant change. In the article, Jonathan Blake Huer, Director of Emerging Technologies and Media Development at Ball State University, mentions the problems we all face in technology: what is the next new technology that might change how we work?

Huer says this about Ball State University:
At Ball State University, we tackled these challenges by creating a nimble administrative unit that puts professional staff and student employees side by side in a fast-paced, project-oriented work environment. With the strong support of our visionary CIO, Phil Repp, my Emerging Technologies and Media Development unit has developed a system, refined over the past six years, that provides the right balance, safeguards, and administrative lattice to support the academic side of the institution at the pace of technology. At the core of the unit are eight diversely skilled professional staff members. The student employees (known as the "Digital Corps") average around forty in number and come from across the campus. Because students graduate and move on, at least 80 percent of the office turns over every three years. This ratio provides a constant source of new ideas and fresh approaches (along with new interests in technology) while maintaining enough consistency to keep projects moving forward and institutional memory intact.

In the Emerging Technologies unit, we divide technology into three longitudinal foci: experimental, disruptive, and pervasive. Experimental technology is our playground. We test new gadgets and see what future value they might have for the academy. Frequently, experimental technology has little practical value, but occasionally it is the solution to a problem that is discovered later. Disruptive technology is a new low/no-cost solution that replaces or enhances a technology already in use. This provides the greatest source of opportunity. Pervasive technology is technology that is easy or common enough that we introduce it but do not support or create for it. Generally speaking, technology that we consider pervasive is disruptive to others (e.g., collaborating in real time using a Google Doc).
It reminds me of a time when I recently joined the University of Minnesota in the Office of Technology's new Web Development team. The Web Development team was a very "young" unit and did not want to be "burdened" by process. Developers frequently incorporated new technology in their projects without fully understanding how it worked or the benefits for using it—or the trade-offs for long-term support. But I realized we needed to do better investigation into new technology.

I wrote a proposal for our Director, for the three of us to create a "50% time" sub-group called "Web Advanced Labs" that would examine new technology. I identified two other team members who were interested in learning new technology, and who understood the need to do a proper examination.

We created a 5-step process to examine new technology, with each step a separate document. Working together, we compromised on how much documentation to add, and created short documents that tracked progress and explained what we learned.

The Web Advanced Labs project was one example of converting the organization to dual-mode. I believe this duality is an important feature of IT organizations of the future: You need to have part of your group moving at "enterprise systems" speed—slow and steady, to support your enterprise systems well. And another part of the group needs to operate at a faster pace—to explore new technology, and to respond in a nimble manner to new challenges.

Some organizations allow staff to examine new concepts as part of their standard work week. Google is famous for their "20% time" policy where engineers can use 20% of work time to work on whatever they please. Gmail and Google News have their origins in 20% time. If Google did not have this policy, Gmail might never have been created, and Google would simply be "yet another" web search company. 3M also has a similar policy using 15% time for their engineers. Examples of "15% time" projects include Scotch Brand Tapes, Post-it Notes, Scotchgard Fabric Protector, automobile window treatment films, multilayer optical films and silicon adhesive systems for transdermal drug delivery.

How are you staying ahead of technology trends? Do you have a separate team dedicated to exploring emerging technologies?
photo: tracyshaun

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spring 2015 Tech Hangouts OnAir

Pam in our instructional and media technology group shared this announcement about the “Spring 2015 Tech Hangouts OnAir” series. This is a series of helpful technology topics—tips and tricks—for end-users. Hangouts OnAir allow you to view a live stream event via YouTube or Google+. And you have the added benefit of being able to watch a recording of the event once the live event has ended.

Join us to learn about what's new in instructional technology. You may also wish to view recordings from last Spring’s Tech Hangouts OnAir.

Pounce Plus (Google+)(YouTube)
Thursday, April 2nd, 10am
In 2014, Briggs Library unveiled a new way to search for articles, books, and multimedia simultaneously. It’s called Pounce Plus. The new search feature includes many (but not all) Briggs Library databases as well as other library content such as books. Recently enhancements, such as a citation feature, were made to improve the search experience as well as incorporating additional database resources. Learn easy search tips and discover how you can make use of this exciting new tool.

What’s New in 2.8 Moodle: What You’ll Want to Know to Prepare your Summer and Fall 2015 Course Sites (Google+)(YouTube)
Tuesday, April 7th, 10am
The Moodle community has once again worked tirelessly to bring us a new version of Moodle, with a significant amount of improvements. Pam will cover the new banner menus, gradebook improvements, Kaltura video options, text editor, forum enhancements, and more.

Solutions for Surveys: Google Forms Basics (Google+)(YouTube)
Tuesday, April 14th, 10am
This Hangout will cover the basics of using Google Forms to easily and efficiently collect information and conduct surveys. We’ll go over the basics of how to create a Google Form and then discuss ways to design your survey to best capture the information you’re looking for. We’ll also touch on the more powerful survey tool, Qualtrics, and when to use which survey tool.

Universal Design: Basics for Creating Accessible Documents (Google+)(YouTube)
Thursday, April 23rd, 10am
Are you concerned about making your class materials accessible to all students, but you’re unsure of how to do that? This Hangout will explain the fundamentals of Universal Design (UD), including why you would want to use UD, how to create and adapt your class materials to UD, and what resources are available to help you.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Technology in education

A colleague shared an article with me, from the Huffington Post, about Better Learning Through Expensive Software. In probing education reform, writer Michael Beyer mentions Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel's appointed school board member, Deborah Quazzo. The resulting political storm highlighted several possible conflicts of interest, although Meyer agrees "with the Sun Times editorial board in regards to Quazzo being innocent of any maleficence."

At the heart of this issue is the preference of some schools to change by "throwing out printed text and purchasing software." From the article:

It's confusing when Common Core is advocating that we return to students reading grade-level texts, but these companies are hocking software that differentiates the text to students' levels. Many teachers I know require students to read independent books at their reading level to ensure differentiation.

Then again, some of these companies aren't interested in what teachers prefer. One such company representative, during a presentation to my faculty, stated twice that teachers have "so much to do" and "not enough time to teach", which is why they should put our students on their digital platform, where they can get assistance from a live teacher online.

Later, the article shares this revelation:

The real problem with all of these companies is that they claim they are revolutionizing education. They're not. Many sell nothing more than test-prep software. Their products show "gains" on the ACT and NWEA MAP because their product mimics the test format. The learning gains don't necessarily transfer to the real world, or last much longer than the end of the school year. Parents might wonder why teachers agree to use the test-prep software, but the fact so much is riding on high-stakes tests, even the most ethical and dedicated educator will make compromises.

There's more to the article, but the gist is that technology seems to be mis-applied in the article's example. Schools blindly invest in new software and new technology without consulting faculty or students, and without a plan for how the technology will be leveraged in the classroom to benefit teaching and learning.

In all education markets, faculty and IT departments need to strike a balance when introducing new technology into the classroom. For example, on my campus, I work with faculty on e-learning and other technology. This collaboration is an important feature in educational technology. Information Technology needs to be a partnership with educators.

That's why at Morris, we regularly connect with faculty and students to probe how technology can advance the teaching and learning mission. We typically do this twice a year: once in the fall, and again in the spring. We are now launching our spring sessions, and in late April we will host a visit from the Office of Information Technology to meet with several campus governance groups.

This partnership reaps real rewards in the classroom. For example, several years ago we helped one of our faculty to build a new Active Learning Classroom in our Science center. More recently, we introduced a media collaboration table in our library, as part of a pilot project to apply technology for group learning. This semester, I have been working alongside one of our faculty in her classroom, teaching students the DICTION software package to help them analyze rhetorical texts. And we're partnering with one of our librarians to assist another rhetoric professor with new ConTeXt software to map social media interaction.

These projects help our faculty to be more effective in the classroom, and in turn prepare our students. I'm glad to have this close relationship with our campus! This interaction and partnership makes me proud to work in higher education and technology.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Getting results

A recent article at the BBC interviewed several chief executives, who revealed their secrets for getting things done. These leadership lessons should not come as a surprise to the readers of this blog, but they serve as an important reminder to exercise good leadership skills. Use this as a motivation to reflect on your leadership style.

From the article, with links to a few Coaching Buttons articles on these topics:

Stay focused on a few important things.
Paul Walsh, chair of Compass and former chief executive of Diageo:
"You've got to stay very true to a few core points that you will pursue relentlessly. Now you can't be so strait-jacketed by that to ignore issues that warrant your attention, but nor can you afford to be blown about by trivial items."
Maintain good work-life balance.
Allan Zeman, founder of the Lan Kwai Fong Group:
"You have to balance your life. It'll make you stronger in the things you do, it'll make you better at what you do."
Give yourself a break.
John Mackey, co-chief executive Whole Foods:
"We can only can function at an optimum level for about 90 minutes … you can do your best work in these sort of short bursts and you have creative 'oh my gosh' epiphanies"
Pace yourself.
Frits van Paasschen, chief executive, Starwood Hotels:
"There are just points where you have to say if I try to do too much, I'm not going to be good at what I need to do."
Delegate well.
Martin Gilbert, chief executive, Aberdeen Asset Management:
"My whole modus operandi is to get it off my desk as quickly as possible onto someone else."