Archive for the ‘ lms ’ Category

getting my socrates on

“Until you know what a thing is, you can’t answer any other questions about it.”


Do we need need to know what a thing is to understand it? Socrates thought so. I think so. However, I get the impression that many of colleagues in educational research & instructional design do not share this view. Note the comments in a recent piece in The Chronicle, “What’s in a Name? Researchers Struggle With Terms for New Learning Methods.” In the article, written by Ben Wieder, researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia found no consensus among academics about the definitions of “e-learning,” “online learning,” and “distance learning.” The research team asserts, and I agree, that our inability to name a thing makes it difficulty to know what it is. As researchers this also makes it difficult to assess its potential strengths & weaknesses for teaching & learning.

It’s been my experience that this is not an isolated sentiment in our field. Whether we’re talking newer entries into the educational ecosystem such as cloud based applications, social applications, and devices that are portable as well as mobile or some long standing things such as learning management systems & electronic portfolios we can’t seem to agree on what a thing is. What I find disturbing is that we’re not having a healthy dialogue as to what a given thing is. It’s not about agreeing on a definition of a given term (ePortfolio, LMS, eLearning) but coming to an understand as to the things essence. What is the essence of an ePortfolio? What is the nature of an LMS? Social media? Digital scholarship? eLearning?

What troubles me is this. As educators aren’t these the very questions with which we should be concerning ourselves? If we do not understand the nature of a thing how can we then apply it to any given situation, such as a course? How do we know whether what we’re doing is good, bad, or indifferent in it’s impact?

I’m not arguing for an absolute understanding going in however, isn’t it incumbent upon us to to know something well enough to have a game plan going in? If not, how do we understand the outcomes & make sense of it all? Do we not have an obligation  How can we know if an ePortfolio is an effective teaching & learning tool if we can’t agree on what it is?

Maybe that’s why we so often get insignificant results. Perhaps that’s why we don’t know if we’re truly making a difference


there’s an (educational) app for that

I’m part of a Hot Team looking into the possibilities of smart phone apps and their potential for teaching, learning & research. This is my first opportunity to be part of a Hot Team and I’m looking forward it. (You can see previous Hot Team topics here.) Our process is very similar to the Educause 7 Things You Need to Know review of products. In our process, we bring together a small team of people with different interests and skill sets to explore a technology or process that may have positive implications for higher education. We explore areas such as the items potential, strengths, & limitations as well as take a look at what others are doing with it.

Smart phones have tremendous power because, they are small, which means they are mobile, and powerful, they are many devices in one. The influx of apps keeps adding to their dynamism. Some data, such as from research done by the Pew Internet & Society, indicates they are quickly becoming the device of choice for most demographic groups, including low-income and other, oftentimes disenfranchised, populations that can’t afford or are not able to get in on the latest technology.

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article on January 2, 2011 covering six smartphone apps for education (read it here). A colleague, and partner on the Hot Team, wrote about his take on it here. Personally, I’m very intrigued by the potential of smartphones being a recent owner of one myself. I dropped my old phone in the middle of College Ave. and busted the screen. In the short time I’ve owned it I’ve used the level app to hang things, the flashlight app to find my wife’s phone (it fell out of her coat pocket in the movie theater. We were seeing the latest Harry Potter), and the GPS app. Not to mention the social media apps like Facebook and Twitter that I take for granted along with web browsing, email, text messaging, and, oh yes, the occasional call. Then there’s Pandora, which allows me to listen to music, and Dropbox, which allows me to share files among all my devices….I could go on but you get the point.

However, now I’m being asked to look at it from a different perspective. Does it have benefits for teaching, learning, and research? And, I’m keeping an open mind about it; approaching this perspective with a healthy skepticism. So. I’ll begin my journey with a question to all of you. What do you see, if anything, as potential for higher education? Have you used any apps, either personally or as part of a course? What was the experience like? Please share.

Reaction to the ECAR Study through Three Lenses: Lens One-The CMS

This is the first of three posts capturing my reactions to the 2010 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. I’m responding to the study from the three major thrusts of my job and research interests: course management systems, ePortfolios, and social media.

Two things jumped out at me concerning perception and use of course management systems (CMS) when reading the ECAR study. One was how intimately linked student perceptions of IT in general were correlated to satisfaction with the school’s chosen CMS. Second was how the gap between faculty use of the CMS and students perceptions of the value of that use is widening.

In the semester the study took place 65% of students indicated they were using a CMS for at least one course (N=33,126). Just over 35% of students indicated they accessed the CMS daily, 28.5% said several times per week, and 15.5% said weekly. Overall, 90% of students use the CMS when it’s available in a course (pg. 10). Not surprisingly, the more a student used the CMS the more positive they felt about it.

This becomes important when we look at student perceptions concerning their feelings toward the overall information technology (IT) services provided by their institution. Students who reported positive experiences with their CMS were much more likely to have positive feelings toward IT overall. In other words, from the student’s perspective, the CMS and IT are synonymous. This makes sense given the fact that the CMS is the most widely utilized IT service provided.

Most critical was the availability of the CMS. If the CMS was available when the students wanted to access it the perception was that all IT services were available. This non-distinction is particularly important here at Penn State where students and faculty frequently complain about our CMS’s unavailability during our daily maintenance window (4-6 am). It’s ironic in the sense that the 2-hour maintenance window is needed more for the other IT services than for the CMS. It is because services such as roster synching, etc. are integrated with the CMS that it needs to be unavailable. But from the student and faculty perspective the CMS is to blame.

That is important because overall student satisfaction with the CMS has been dropping, from 77% in 2007 to 51% in 2009. And, satisfaction is not just related to availability. While 70% of the students in the study reported that IT makes course activities more convenient about half indicated that IT helped improve learning. Even more troubling, from my perspective, only a third of the students indicated they were more actively involved in their courses because the instructor uses some sort of IT (pg. 11).

This leads me into my second point about the growing gap between faculty use of the CMS and students perceptions of the value of that use. The CMS is still the overwhelming IT choice of faculty. And they still continue to use it in much the same manner: the lecture-based model of instruction where slides and other materials are made available for students. How do we leverage the CMS to increase student engagement? Can we? Should we?

Over half the students in the study indicated they preferred only a moderate amount of technology use in their courses. The study did point out that while this percentage has remained consistent over time the students definition of what is moderate may have changed. We need to determine what moderate use is as well as, and more importantly, the best way to leverage IT for learning. For example, a recent trend has been for instructors to turn their lectures in podcasts or videos that the students can download and play at their convenience. However, in the study fewer than 1 in 5 students reported doing this indicating this may not be the best use of IT and faculty resources.

Where there may be an opportunity is in the cloud and cloud-like functionality within the CMS.. Most faculty were not using IT tools such as collaborative editing, blogs, or video games/simulations/virtual worlds. While most CMS have some of this functionality in a limited way (blogs & wikis in particular) there is also the ability to embed a lot of these services as well. For example, the instructor could create a Google Doc for team collaboration and embed that document within a page of their CMS. There are greater logistical ramifications using this method because it requires the coordination of multiple accounts.

There may be a correlation to this lack of use by faculty and students reporting they felt the IT services being used in courses did not adequately prepare them for the workforce.This need was also expressed by the business leaders world-wide in the 2008 Economist Intelligence Unit Report where the majority of respondents (72%) were ambivalent to negative on their feelings of how universities were preparing students to use collaborative tools and 66% felt that businesses were faster at adopting new technologies than academic institutions. So it seems that those whom we serve, the students, and those in the world we’re sending them off to feel we are not doing our best in this realm.

While the ECAR study is a snapshot in time, students were asked to respond specifically about the courses they were taking that semester, the responses have been stable over time. I feel this data gives us a good starting off point to assess how, when and why IT can be used to improve teaching and learning.

Source: Shannon D. Smith and Judith Borreson Caruso. The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010—Key Findings (Key Findings). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, 2010 (