Tag Archives: education


Education Unbundled

Education Unbundled

Reposting from Michael Stanton, Edumorphology.com.


Data, Research, Education and … Hunches

A national gas station chain opens a neighborhood store, adds a customer loyalty program, puts up a website to collect registration data, gets people to swipe the card at the pump whenever buying gas, while inside asks again for the card and/or zip code, pays out their incentives: coffee, frozen drinks, snack packs, cookies, crackers, 2-liter pops. A video camera records it all.

Another day, a researcher working on a project to determine the snacking habits of obese people versus non-obese people has just struck a gold mine if they can agree to responsibly treat this data in the aggregate only. (Didn’t the gas station promise not to share the data when they collected it? Maybe. Or maybe just not to sell it to companies looking for more consumers ). Canvassing begins, more data gathered, and correlation theories processed.

A couple months ago, in an entrepreneurial startup weekend, publically available data was called upon to inform or power a new phone app with predictive capabilities for determining the rise or fall of stock prices. That one’ll be hot. Publically available data …

Try this idea: Find existing data useful for research, and then create the questions which could be answered by its careful analysis.

Call it “Backward Research.” Start with a data set first. Ask questions later. Find data in existence, not just to be mined, but to be curated, aggregated, built-upon, re-defined, and continually expanded to provide answers to new questions, questions we weren’t capable of even dreaming until we’d gathered the data.

In the years ahead more and more data constructs will be created which are ‘living,’ persist over time, and therefore will be useful for ongoing research.

Education data is such data. Who owns that data? Who should own that data? We’re calling this burgeoning field learning analytics, but do we know what we’re really talking about?

K-12 students will be tested via computer in most of the United states starting 2014. Those results, mapped to the Common Core standards, will over time form a ginormous data repository. What rules will govern access to that repository? Should the state governments own it? Federal?

To what purposes could we put a repository of testing information for each child’s educational career ? I remember the Twitter backchannel asking those same questions during the Educause Midwest 2009 Keynote. Nancy Zimpher, then of University of Cincinnati, was telling us about a “virtual backpack” of student data which travels with the person from cradle through career. Nope, not science fiction.

While the future which the Tweeters in the room that day were cynically pronouncing was one of categorization and the creation of societal strata based on past performance such as late reading, or non-social kindergarten behaviors, which then solidified the students’ role in society forever, I would sound the alarm that now is the time to develop policy around such education data, policy which prescribes its appropriate and inappropriate use, policy which gives it an accountable owner, one beyond reproach, one with the best interests of the individual in mind. This is not the government, my friend. The government’s mission is to have the best interest of society in mind.

That data is here now. It will be aggregated. It will be researched. It should be researched. How and by whom are the questions…

There are dots to be connected. I would feel most comfortable if they were connected by researchers and educators at responsible higher ed institutions. Over at Music for Deckchairs, in the context of creating and curating educational content, Kate Bowles is making this connection, “The sudden partnership between venture-funded educational startups and traditional elite universities has thrown down a big challenge to less flexible models of higher education, especially outside the U.S. And the fact that we’ve typically bundled content, learning and accreditation under the broad heading “education” doesn’t mean that we’ll be able to keep them all contained in this way indefinitely.”

Michael Feldstein, commenting on Blackboard strategy via Ray Henderson, says, “…there are huge potential benefits to a true SaaS [Software as a Service]platform in terms of the value of the data that can be gathered. With analytics and adaptive learning being the huge buzzwords that they are, the future success of learning technology companies will largely depend on their ability to capture the data exhaust from students’ and teachers’ interactions on the platform and harness it to produce better learning outcomes.”

In all of this, who will speak for the student?

More Reading:

Researchers Digitize AIDS Quilt to Make it a Research Tool,” July 9, 2012.

Blackboard’s New Platform Strategy,” Annotated Link Here – Feldstein Quote. August 19, 2012.

The revolution might be televised,” July 22, 2012. Kate Bowles.

Blackboard Open Enrollment Announcement

In another move following Blackboard’s March 26th announcement (aggregated responses on e-Literate site), yesterday Blackboard announced that Instructors using their CourseSitescan make their courses available for enrollment by anyone, effectively supporting an open courseware model. It means individuals can set up open teaching initiatives, community outreach and volunteer training, as well as collaborative research programs.

Of course, Sakai Project Sites also support these activities, but Sakai servers are not usually set up outside institutions.

Instructure Canvas is another company that also supports these activities, with their “Free for Teachers” version. I don’t know whether it supports open enrollment. Yet. But it will.

It’s a strange reversal for those of us observing this space. The past few years were those in which options seemed to become more and more limited. Without much of a pause, the pendulum now swings to more and more choices. Still, other than whether social media and mobile are supported, the choices don’t have many functional differentiators.

Instead, a main platform differentiator appears to be in the models for provisioning, reuse and interoperability of content. Our appetites are continually expanding for high quality content. Publishers, it’s your turn.

For further reading: “When it Comes to Content, Say “Yes” to Wrappers But “No” to Containers


No Wonder Video is Not For the Faint of Heart!

(…Or maybe just not for users who are PC-based, as I’m sure some of my readers would point out to me).

This story starts out with an online course I’m taking in Advanced Technologies for Distance Education (this course description page is due for revision so it may not be up when you click on it). My assignment this week was to explore video for teaching – read about it, find some I like and why, and make some. As someone firmly planted in-between supporting the backend of an LMS and supporting the faculty who use it, this is excellent professional development for me and a good assignment.

I also happen to be an assistant coach for a First Lego League Robotics team (which is an excellent program supporting STEM curriculum in the middle schools, despite the fact that it’s also fun). So I decided to kill two birds with one stone by doing a promo video for this season’s team as my video project for class.

So, again I deviated a little bit from the requirements of the assignment, but I did so to make the assignment work for my real life.

First, I used devices I currently own (and I’m the only one in America without a dedicated camcorder).

  1. PC running Windows 7
  2. HTC Evo (8+ megapixels and HD  resolution, 1280×720 pixels.

Secondly, I chose a project I needed to do anyway, and that was a video interview with a 5th grader. The phone camcorder was appealing to me in this setting for another reason as well- I figured all kids these days would have had a mobile phone pointed at them and had their picture taken; my interviewee would thus be just as comfortable with it as Mom or Dad pointing their phone at them and saying “Wow, Honey, that’s Great!”

The recording session went well, took virtually no time at all for a nice piece of 1:30 second video. My subject even knew where to look! The hardest part was finding a background on the bright sunny day. Indoors and my subject had green hued skin, outdoors and she faded into the shadow… until I found the glass door. Excellent.


Then began the process of setting up my computer to edit the film, add some intro music and a title. For our class we were to use Windows Movie Maker 2. But on that page you’ll see that users of Windows 7 are encouraged to click another link and download and install Windows LIVE Movie Maker instead. Since I use Windows Live Writer for blogging anyway, I figured this was a good thing…

Turns out Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 doesn’t like the mobile format, .3gpp . But even before that I had to wrestle my PC’s internal speakers to forget about the USB headset/mic I usually have plugged in. Live Movie Maker wanted to route sound through the headset’s MICROPHONE!

Then I realized I had codec problems when the intro music I appended played but the original audio didn’t. I do NOT know this stuff. I mean saying “codec problems” may sound techie and all that, but what I know about what a codec is and why we need them and how they are used is… well, here’s all I know:

A codec is a set of algorothms used by a computer program to translate one video or audio format to another so that the resultant file can be viewed, heard, edited and saved for use with some other program or device.

That’s it. That’s all I know. Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 and Windows Media Player 12 both were displaying my video but not playing the audio.

But because my operating system is Windows 7 and my Media Player 12 and Live Movie Maker 2011 were fresh downloads (untried really) , and they are both Microsoft, I made the assumption that if I fixed the problem in Media Player, they would share the codecs needed to make the translation from the mobile .3gpp to whatever they like.


In the process I discovered (after downloading and finding it didn’t work) that the Windows Media Player add-on called “Media Codec pack” has been superceded by the new Expression Encoder 4 , and that DID solve my problem of hearing .3gpp files – BUT ONLY while viewing them in Windows Media Player, NOT in using Live Movie Maker to edit the file. Oh, and Expression Encoder 4 has a prerequisite I also had to download, the newer Microsoft .NET framework 4.

So, where was I? Ah… the light was beginning to dawn. I needed to get a program expressly to convert the .3gpp mobile phone codec (format) to something else before Live Movie Maker 2011 could work with it at all.

This is when I turned to a freebie I had used several years ago on another PC, probably the last time I dabbled in video, which is distributed by DVDVideoSoft.

So now to the usefulness (or not) of video

That is the question, isn’t it? Is this stuff good? Is it needful? Does it aid memory? Stimulate learning? Engage folk? When to use it? I’ll hit these topics in my next posting.

Is it a project or a relationship or a language?

My ‘seat’ at the table of higher ed is smack dab in the middle of the IT service organization. We build stuff and keep the lights on, and oh, also support the Academy.

Every month we start new projects. Every month we end projects. Most of our thought is project-based. On the walls around here are posters of our most recent project process revision, representing how to do projects better than the way we did them before. Although it’s great to have more definition of what it takes to get a new project out the door, I don’t like the chart so much. There are 6 steps with the last one being “Operationalize” with the comment that this is supposed to mean “Thoughtful transition to support.” To understand the chart requires you to enter our world of IT.

Despite the location of my seat at the table, or maybe because of it, I am passionate about strengthening my relationship with faculty impacted by ever-transitioning technology. That’s why I’d like a project process encapsulated in my faculty colleagues’ language.

That’s because if I’m going to serve them better, I invite them to sit at the table with me to help me understand and prioritize their needs. And I don’t want to dictate who they have to become or what language they have to speak to sit here.

I want to understand from their point of view the  technologies they are required to use  (ie final grade submission, email, course instructor feedback, calendaring), as well as technologies we make available for them to choose to use- technologies which could make their teaching management easier (ie online gradebooks, online quiz question banks, online syllabus distribution, online office hours); technologies which, meshed with their teaching styles, could engage students in learning to a greater degree (ie discussion boards; RSS feeds; podcasts; polling software; classroom back channels) .


To understand the Academy, which we know is not a unified entity, but which is made up of Engineering, Arts & Letters, Architecture, the Sciences, and others – all constantly transforming according to perceptions of strategic need, I do not need them to sit at my table.

I need to sit at each of their tables.

One of the outcomes of their talks about operational needs and strategic directions will be projects to build the tools that they want.

I will do the translation of their language into my language.

That’s a good first step. Now how do they get aggregated and prioritized by a single institutional service provider, assuming that what each of them decide is good for their College, school or department may not be good for the institution as a whole? If there were such a table where all of them could sit, listen to each other, and together prioritize their separate goals for the good of the institution, whose table would that be?