If you thought that news concerning MOOCs was calming down, think again: The online education arena is bursting with developments nearly every week, and the past few weeks have been no exception. With more and more colleges and universities moving to MOOC-based classes for their current students, there’s even more business competition and money on the line. Now figure into the mix Blackboard Learn’s newest enhancements to their comprehensive learning management software.
During Blackboard’s announcement at their annual conference, BbWorld, they explained why their MOOC platform is different, and how the company plans to set itself apart from the competition. While it may seem as though the web is already filled with MOOC providers such as Udacity, edX, and Coursera, Blackboard’s version has carefully created a platform that supports not 4 million, but 40 million online users. It boasts specially designed test logs, new channels that allow educators to create and copyright material, and more, creating an all-inclusive online system that is taking web education to the next level.
With the new hire of chief executive Jay Bhatt, who has a software background, Blackboard has decided to focus more on innovation than on simply fighting for MOOC market share. While they carefully watched the online learning market develop, Blackboard decided on a strategy: Their platform will be free for existing Blackboard customers. Nearly every institution signing up for Blackboard Learn’s enhanced MOOC tools is already familiar with the platform, making any move to full, online classes a smooth transition for everyone involved. Compare that to the other MOOC powerhouses, which require new users to also learn how to navigate their sites.
Will Blackboard sit back and watch their new platform catch on? No, Bhatt says, suggesting that this is just the start of the company’s plans to help institutions transition to online learning. “We need to take the handcuffs off the innovation,” he states. “Yes, it’s about supporting massive open online courses. But it’s also about supporting programs online, or complete institutions as they move online, or distance education on a global scale.”
In addition to course management features that will support extremely large classes while still filtering and grouping students for a small-course feel, mobile applications for Blackboard Learn will enable students and instructors to access all Blackboard Learn course content from iPhones, iPads, and Androids. The company also plans on spending a substantial amount of money on its software development, and to move to the technology forefront in the world of higher education. So what can be made of all the MOOC competition? For students who simply want to learn, it can only be a good thing.
Learning has no doubt become more digital. Students enjoy having access to their course materials and grades through learning management systems, and professors increasingly make use of online resources to enhance and limber up the learning experience.
Digital textbooks, on the other hand, have not received the same warm welcome from college campuses. A recent survey by Bowker Market Research revealed that within the past academic year, fewer than 5% of students primarily used digital textbooks in conjunction with their courses. Many students said they prefer the tactile experience that comes with physical textbooks, some said they like to write in and highlight the pages of their books, and others benefit from the ability to re-sell their books at the end of the semester.
The Bowker study also showed that professors were concerned with the price of materials for their students. This information aligns with faculty insight we have gathered. 87% of faculty in our survey stated that they considered the cost to student when selecting course materials. At this juncture, digital textbooks may be cost-inhibitive, and some professors do not see any added benefits to going digital.
Through adaptive learning, however, colleges are discovering quantifiable benefits to going digital. Adaptive learning tools such as those offered by Pearson and Knewton allow students to work at their own pace and to use their texts online while engaging more intuitively with course content, their instructor and their peers. Adaptive learning technology has already helped Arizona State University increase its math readiness rate from 64% to 75%.
Of those students using digital textbooks, 51% access them on a laptop computer, as opposed to an iPad or Android tablet. eTextbook platforms such as NOOK Study from Barnes & Noble cater to the majority of these students by offering access to Microsoft Windows and Apple OS X users.
With regard to creating and pushing digital textbooks, publishers are still dipping their toes in the water. Currently, roughly two percent of textbooks sold at college bookstores are digital titles. Carl Kulo, the U.S. director of Bowker Market Research, predicts that publishers will have to dive in if they wish to see any significant increase in digital textbook usage in the near future.
“Inertia is an inhibitor to rapid change in this market,” Kulo said. “We believe that it’s the publishers and other educational technology companies that will drive the shift to digital.”
Incidentally, market forces may end up being the most influential driver in the shift toward digital textbooks. Cengage Learning Inc., a prominent publisher within the realm of education, has recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to alleviate its $5.8 billion debt load.
Machael E. Hansen, the chief executive officer of Apax Partners LLP, Cengage’s parent company, sees this as an opportunity to adapt, rather than as a sign of imminent extinction.
“I don’t believe the print textbook is dying or dead,” he said. “It will have a rightful place in the market. But it is pretty clear that the growth has to be on the digital side.”
In an increasingly connected world, emphasis is often put on developing and utilizing technology in the classroom. Technology, after all, is necessary in helping classrooms stay up to date, getting students with different learning styles to better adapt, and creating an environment that prepares young adults for today’s workforce. But in the midst of using technology for learning, we are sometimes skipping over an extremely important factor: creativity.
Creativity helps build new ways of thinking, moves our country and our world forward, and allows for the development of innovative products, services, and more. It helps build new technologies in the first place. Nearly three-quarters of college-educated professionals actually say creative thinking should be taught as a normal course. Somewhere in the midst of the higher ed technology boom, however, we seem to have lost the ability to think in original settings—to test our minds and truly think outside the box. So how can we meld technology and creativity to produce well-rounded and free-thinking students?
While many colleges and universities advertise themselves as idea factories, the actual emphasis seems to be on having students cycle through huge lectures and sit through classes that don’t involve them or challenge their ideas enough. Teaching styles should allow for more freedom in classrooms and laboratories, letting students ask questions and discuss their ideas in order to make creative connections between new and old knowledge. Technology utilizing online comment and innovation boards alone help encourage ideas and discussions, but there is so much more available to teaching staff.
Technology and creativity needn’t wait until college: Globaloria is a game creation social learning network that encourages young students to develop educational web games. Already familiar with such technology or not, having higher ed students create digital resumes and e-portfolios—not carbon copies of each other but real, disparate catalogues of each student’s experiences—can foster creativity. Sites such as flavors.me help students and recent grads easily design and showcase their work, content, and social media personalities by combining everything into an online presence. Researching complex ideas online and working in small-group settings also encourages creativity with the use of technology.
If you’re looking to incorporate technologies into teaching creativity but don’t know where to start, ask your co-workers: Collaborate, organize workshops, and get the creative ideas flowing. When flipping the classroom, concentrate on creativity and let students ask questions and suggest ideas for more interactive and challenging experiences. From web design to ideas that go outside the realm of traditional education, the ability to think creatively will likely be an even bigger asset to every student, graduate, and faculty member in tomorrow’s workforce.
As more schools begin to adopt massive open online courses as part of their curricula, administrators and faculty from across the nation seek to put the courses and their providers under the microscope.
Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc posits that the rise of online courses and companies that provide “bundled services” to universities will result in a watered-down version of higher education. “If non-profit Institution X contracts for a [bundled services provider], what is then left for Institution X to provide?” asks LeBlanc. “Its name, accreditation, Title IV approval, and intellectual property in the form of the syllabuses and program.” He argues that institutions would effectively serve as conduits for federal and state financial aid money to pass directly into the coffers of for-profit companies.
Universities have been actively considering the role they will allow MOOCs to play. The CIC, in particular, created a task force to explore their options, and compiled their findings and questions in a report.
The report questions the ability of massive online open courses to educate in a significant way on their own. In a particularly scathing introduction, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation(CIC) Ad Hoc Committee for Online Learning wrote, “The ability to project a course online such that hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands can tune in is not, in and of itself, a means for extending educational opportunity to millions of potential ‘students.’” The committee does not identify MOOCs as a threat to the current educational model, and instead refers to them as “emerging instructional technologies” that the universities can harness as well as, if perhaps better than, any upstart organization.
Despite this belief, the CIC committee admits that their member schools produce over 16 percent of MOOCs on Coursera, and have no plans to stop for the time being. However, the 15 member universities of the CIC look forward to expanding their exclusive cache of shared online curricula to supplant MOOCs in the future.
For now, professors from these institutions provide the third-party organizations with their courses, sometimes gleefully, and sometimes with reservations.
The ethicality of a MOOC
The edX course Justice originally galvanized millions as a PBS program with concurrent availability on YouTube and supplementary materials on its own website. Being that the course was ready-made for the MOOC platform, the professor behind the course, Michael Sandel of Harvard, now gets yet another chance to introduce his material to new audiences.
Some professors, such as Peter Kenez, emeritus, of the University of California at Santa Cruz, agree with Sandel’s approach. Kenez’s Coursera course, The Holocaust, will launch at the end of July. On that subject, he stated, “I willingly give this value to anybody who wants [it].” His peers at UC Santa Cruz disagree. Their union, The Santa Cruz Faculty Association, has expressed concern with the way school faculty must sign away their intellectual property rights to the university in order to host a massively open online course.
In a spirited open letter to Michael Sandel, the philosophy department at San Jose State Unviersity took exception to the idea that a pre-packaged course could provide the same level of student engagement as a real professor. Their letter sought to ignite a debate, but received a tepid three-paragraph response from Sandel. The rest of the academic community remains divided, and continues to entertain questions about the imminent changes facing higher education.
In recent years, students have clamored to take advantage of online courses in order to free up their schedules for work, internships, child-rearing, and other important responsibilities. Despite the recent proliferation of online courses and degree programs thanks to partnerships between colleges and universities and startups such as edX, Coursera and Udacity that offer massive open online courses (MOOCs), there still remain those who are unable to take full advantage of online courses.
Even in the digital age, a divide still exists between those who have access to high-speed Internet at home and those who do not. According to available numbers from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 22 percent of adults with less than a high school education as well as 52 percent of high school graduates have broadband access at home. This leaves these individuals and their children at a marked disadvantage, given that college attendees and graduates statistically tend to have much higher rates of broadband adoption.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, San Jose State University recently encountered issues while offering MOOCs to high school students on an experimental basis. The school found that some of the lower-income teens who attended the high school did not have access to either computers or the high-speed Internet access required to keep up with the coursework. The problems that some of the individuals who could best be served by digital innovation in education continue to face do pose challenges to the new model. To remedy the issue, the high school made available a computer lab and faculty support in order to help the students understand and complete course material.
Microsoft is also pitching in. The company recently announced a crowdfunding program called “Chip In,” that promises to help students by paying for 10% of a personal computer or tablet purchase if they can secure the other 90% from friends and family. This seasonal program has the potential to assist many students in getting their first computer just in time for the fall semester.
Over time, the digital divide has shrunk as costs for computers and internet access have decreased. With assistance from schools, upstarts, and inveterate organizations, more students than ever will be able to keep up with burgeoning digital trends in education.
Image courtesy the San Jose Mercury News