If you’re gathering information about traditional higher education, online courses, the use of mobile technology, or nearly anything else, chances are that one term will keep coming up: big data.
Big data is a collection of information and data sets that is used to gather insights and find correlations in real-world situations. At present, the sheer volume of data is so overwhelming that it’s not yet clear exactly how to analyze it—or what the analyses would actually mean. Still, the potential for vital information and ground-breaking statistics to come out of big data is what is getting IT employees, statistics professors, and administration staff excited. And just like corporations, financial institutions, and businesses, the world of higher education can greatly benefit from this up-and-coming information influx.
From analyzing speech to mapping smartphone photos, the ways in which to use big data are just starting to be discovered. So how can it be used by colleges and universities around the world?
- Educators can help students get a more personalized learning experience: With monitoring and analyzing, professors could see time spent on test questions, the success of group dynamics, and participation in class and projects.
- Schools can analyze new student retention rates: Through grants and ongoing data-mining efforts, researchers have created a database measuring 33 variables, 3 million course-level records, and 640,000 students. Their findings are helping track student performance.
- Big data can help faculty advisors recommend the best classes, study techniques, and even majors for their students: Listen to this interview with the chief technology officer and associate VP for technology services at the University of Puget Sound for his thoughts on how big data can revolutionize higher education management.
Because higher education institutions have access to so much data, companies such as Civitas Learning are stepping in to take advantage and analyze all that information. So far the company has raised nearly $9 million, which is being put into helping colleges and universities make data-driven decisions. While big data is just coming onto the scene with more figures than we know to process, preparations are in place to analyze and use the flood of information coming our way. From helping students study to helping institutions run smoothly, big data will be at the forefront of an information revolution.
In a time of rising tuition and fees, the public has come to question the value of a college degree. While some institutions have elected to freeze tuition to appeal to prospective students and curb attrition, many universities continue the trend of cost increases. That leaves faculty and administration with the task of creating innovative solutions.
The University of California Berkeley projects its students will pay an average of $1,226 on books and supplies in the upcoming school year, and the University of Cincinnati advises its students to allocate $1,570 for course materials for the 2013-14 academic year. While some disciplines will require students to spend that much to keep up with rigorous, hands-on coursework, professors do their best to mitigate materials costs by creating or selecting cheaper options for their cash-strapped students.
Professor M. Ryan Haley of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh used a $295,000 grant to develop a free e-book for his students, with the assistance of three fellow economics professors. “We calculated by the spring of 2013 the amount of savings to students from not having to buy a textbook will have exceeded the grant award,” Haley said. His innovative approach materialized because of his dissatisfaction with publishing industry practices: “The introductory concepts haven’t changed in 200 years,” Haley said. “The publishing houses want to put out new editions every three years, but nothing has changed.”
According to the National Association of Colleges, in 2012 a new textbook cost $68 and a used textbook cost $53, on average. The California State University set up its Affordable Learning Solutions Initiative in 2010 to severely undercut these prices. They provide free and low-cost course materials for professors to use, and recognize faculty who cut costs on their students’ behalf. Also, Tidewater Community College in Virginia looks forward to launching a pilot of its “textbook-free” business administration degree program this fall with the help of open educational resources.
Faculty members who lack the resources to create their own texts or take advantage of university initiatives have options, as well. Electing to use an older edition text can save students a lot of money, especially if students conduct online searches to find books for low prices.
Learning management systems (LMS) also allow instructors to help their students. Resources like XanEdu allow for the creation of course packs using select material from textbooks in order to reduce the overall cost of the resource. A less spoken of practice involves the distribution of copyrighted material to students through LMS without permission from publishers. While some professors feel justified under the fair use doctrine to do this, the practice opens professors and their home institutions to potential lawsuits.
As instructors to hundreds if not thousands of students every year, professors are acutely attuned to the mounting costs of textbooks and course materials. While students and their families wait for assistance in the form of more affordable higher education, they should know that increasingly, faculty and school administrators are on their side.
If you’re wondering what a faculty culture even is in these modern times, don’t feel alone: Clubs, partnerships, and in-person scholarly conversations are so seemingly rare these days, many new professors aren’t even aware that they once existed. Though we’re living in a digital age, has the need for in-person collaboration among college staff become even more important?
When there is a lack of teamwork among faculty, students can sense the discomfort; it doesn’t go unnoticed. And in a world where universities are competing even more with online education opportunities, shouldn’t a sense of togetherness be a priority? Instead of eating lunch at their desks, faculty, alumni, and more could benefit from a common meeting place, whether for snacking, collaborating, or just getting to know what’s happening around school. A real faculty culture can be mutually beneficial—but it takes effort.
Just a few decades ago, having a company culture was virtually unheard of. These days, many entrepreneurial companies have been pushing their fun game times, snacks, and interactive spaces. In an age when people work from home or feel imprisoned in their cubicles, many newer companies are pushing to make their employees happy while developing loyalty. So what about in the higher ed world? The notion of having a place on campus for faculty, employees, and more to mingle and interact actually isn’t new.
Take the Berkeley Faculty Club, which has been around for more than a century. It’s considered a secluded retreat, lunch and dinner club, meeting place, and more for faculty, admin, staff, alumni, and even community members. Taco Tuesdays, intimate concerts featuring students, and more unite the faculty and give them a place to unite. Less successful was The Rossborough Inn, an old University of Maryland faculty club that no longer functions as anything but an office.
Of course, in-person meetings and collaborations are not always possible. Many faculty are part-time, teach online, or simply aren’t able to get the information they need locally. An online community could be an answer when it comes to faculty teamwork and collaboration; it simply doesn’t exist yet.
It’s not just a “club” that teaching communities are looking for. It’s a sense of camaraderie, an ability to make voices heard, and ways to problem solve as well. From community colleges to private institutions, higher education establishments nationwide are working to build a better culture. Virginia’s Patrick Henry Community College worked to change their low student engagement by promoting professional development with hands-on group work. As student outcomes improved, this type of faculty training was made mandatory. Pierce College in Washington got its faculty to bond and progress with a week-long course on ideas for teaching improvement. Successful completion resulted in salary increases—and the students started doing better, too. Happier and more-inspired teachers most certainly results in happier students.
"We want to have people live, work, and play around the university, so we have to provide the kinds of things that attract them," said one university consultant. To help mend a broken system, faculty culture is something professors and staff simply must work for together.
Colleges and universities across the country are picking up on a new trend: Vine. While the six-second looping media clip program may not have received much initial enthusiasm from the public, higher ed institutions are using the free program in innovative ways. The goal? To attract and involve more students and alumni within the online space.
By simply filming clips from a phone or iPod Touch, automatic uploading features make shooting and sharing short videos easy. In the past few months alone, Vine’s monthly active user base soared from 2% to nearly 8% of iPhone owners in the U.S. (The Android version was released just this month, so no data is yet available). Some suggest using Vine as an interview tool: Questions can be tweeted with six-second answers being recorded. And while many will see six seconds as limiting, can’t we say that’s how the 140-character limit on Twitter was to start as well? Users get accustomed to challenging parameters and figure out how to adapt their messages to reach a larger audience.
Dozens of schools have caught on to using the app for events, activities, alumni get-togethers, and more. The Stanford Engineering school showcased the Stanford Drone Games. The University of Florida showed off the moment their students graduated and cheered. And UCLA Health broadcast a six-second clip of a man undergoing a brain operation. In it, he’s playing guitar on the hospital bed. This short video from UCLA went Vine-viral, and it was no wonder. How better to show how brain surgery can be done on a conscious individual than with a memorable six-second clip?
Vine has a reason for being loved by higher ed. Any chance to positively interact with students, alumni, or the public is helpful, but schools go a step further. They’re able to engage, attract a new audience, and draw attention to little-known places on campus, research projects, and much more. William Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University, uses Vine in his own media classes. He has students create Vines while live tweeting big television events (like the Super Bowl or Oscars) to help experiment with real-time marketing. Professor Ward believes Vine could even make these short-form videos as popular as photo sharing is right now on Twitter.
Schools are using Vine specifically to improve the dialogue between students and teachers. Professors, for example, can improve this online communication by demonstrating concepts, show off artwork, or send a quick quiz hint to students. In fact, without the pressure of shooting film, downloading it, editing and captioning, and uploading, Vine takes video marketing to a whole new level.
Will Vine be successful in such a competitive, fast-paced social media world? The app was released just six months ago, so it may be too early to tell. But with an interested higher ed audience and millions taking advantage of the marketing and communication possibilities, Vine may just be here to stay.
The process of submitting scholarly articles, having work peer-reviewed, and making endless revisions has long been the norm. But for research faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students alike, new methods for researching, filtering, discussing, and even publishing articles is starting to catch on.
Bibliometrics, or the process of measuring scholarly impact, is a process you may have heard of. But the term altmetrics (or cybermetrics, or webometrics), tools for measuring both traditional impact metrics as well as web-based ones, is becoming increasingly important in our digital world. In fact, as universities push to differentiate themselves from online-only educations, university libraries are becoming the go-to sources for tracking, learning from, and finding sources other than through simple filtering methods or citation factors.
Many feel that every scholarly article can be found online these days, and that they therefore don’t need any help. The fact is, however, that school libraries still have access to private databases and subscription-based tools that do much more than filter. There’s a difference between simply finding an article and being able to measure the impact of an article. Altmetrics finds what is creating the impact by meta tagging and tracking everything from datasets and self-published papers to experimental designs and arguments.
So are peer-reviewed publications necessary? While they are still the norm, altmetrics is currently tackling—and tracking—newcomers ready to be used by scholars. Steven B. Roberts, an assistant professor at the University of Washington, chose to search out evidence of his research’s impact online. He counted page views, tweets, downloads, presentation views, and more using social media, analytics, and embedded data sets. This use of altmetrics is gaining ground, but for those without the time or energy to invest in self-tracking, software is available to make understanding impact easy. Various companies such as Plum and Altmetric make monitoring personal articles and discovering others easier and smarter than ever before.
Whether a research student or higher ed faculty member, learning and understand these new web metrics is essential. For anyone looking to track an existing article or research for one soon to be published, your school library may have just the tools you’re after.
The first twenty years of online retailing have succeeded in opening up a dizzying array of purchasing choices for consumers. In addition to convenience, the online revolution has also enabled shoppers to choose, pay for and receive goods through an increasingly wider choice of digital platforms. Like many established retailers, Barnes & Noble College has invested in leveraging those options as a way of providing customers with the ability to shop for the products they want, in the way that they most prefer. Although the way we shop may have changed, what we want from the retail experience hasn’t, and value, the broadest possible product selection and exceptional customer service, are all expectations that still power purchasing decisions. Despite the progress of digital retailing in the publishing sector, there’s plenty of evidence to indicate the place where those factors come together most effectively is still in the traditional bricks and mortar bookstore.
Why Browsing Matters
An article recently published in The Bookseller highlights the crucial role physical stores play in the health of the publishing industry, particularly when it comes to the ability to browse at leisure. Cited in the article, Jo Henry, a Director at Bowker Market Research, UK, estimates that physical booksellers were responsible for the discovery of some 21 percent of all consumer book purchases in the UK last year, through window display merchandising or through browsing in the bookstore, representing an annual $686 million to the British publishing industry. In the same article, Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis stresses the importance of the bricks and mortar bookstore to the publishing industry. Although online retailers may gain some business with the closing of a physical bookstore, a majority of that store’s business would, “vanish from the publishing industry entirely.”
What is true for trends in the general publishing industry can be even more evident in the university campus setting, even though the bottom line isn’t always so obvious, “The store has several different functions on campus, in addition to generating revenue,” Barnes & Noble College’s Lew Claps points out. “It’s a place of community, a meeting place for faculty, a study hall for students, and a point of gathering for campus events from orientation to homecoming,” he adds. As Manager of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Bookstore, Claps oversees operations at the largest retailer on campus.
Established at Penn fifteen years ago, the 55,000 sq. foot store was one of the company’s first superstores and carries upwards of 65,000 different titles. As a rendezvous or refreshment stop, the store also incorporates a 125-seat café that serves coffee, drinks and light snacks.
But Claps says it’s difficult to put a transactional value on the footprint the store enjoys at UPenn. “We’re a business of course, but our value is in our partnership with the university,” he explains. In a demonstration of that commitment, six years ago the store underwent a design transformation from corporate to Penn pride and now, bedecked with blue and red accented walls, even the store’s sign packages have changed to reflect the Penn school colors. “Yes, we’re still Barnes & Noble College,” Claps acknowledges, “but now when you walk in, you feel that you’re in the university’s bookstore.”
What Digital Can’t Provide
Another customer advantage of the store environment is the service experience. “We need to be knowledgeable about the product, but we also train our booksellers to know the needs of the campus community and to help with everything from orientation to ‘where can I get lunch,’” Claps says. That oneness with the university community also extends to the store continuing to be a gathering place for meeting and higher learning. “Part of what makes us interesting and relevant to the campus is a diverse schedule of store events,” Claps points out. With over 100 guest speakers per year, the store successfully introduces a diverse program to the campus ranging from a study in nuclear physics to the latest David Sedaris book signing.
All of these benefits provided by a physical presence bode well for the future of bookstores, as McCabe maintains. “Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level.” Claps agrees. “We might not look the same as the business changes, but we’re certainly going to be around for a long time,” he adds. As evidence, he points to one example of the way the store merchandises incremental business. “You might come into our store for books or logo apparel and on the way out smell our chocolate chip cookies – that’s not an experience you’re going to get online any time soon.”
*This article comes from the Barnes & Noble College website. Click here to view the original article, published on April 23, 2013.