October 26, 2014

What UBC has learned about doing MOOCs

Listen with webReader

Coursera certificate 2

Engle, W. (2104) UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and Delivery Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia, a premier public research university in Canada, successfully delivered five MOOCs in the spring and summer of 2013, using the Coursera platform. This report is an evaluation of the experience.

The report is particularly valuable because it provides details of course development and delivery, including media used and costs. Also UBC has been developing online courses for credit for almost 20 years, so it is interesting to see how this has impacted on the design of their MOOCs.

The MOOCs

1. Game Theory I: K. Leyton Brown (UBC); M. Jackson and Y.Shoham (Stanford University)

2. Game Theory II: K. Leyton Brown (UBC); M. Jackson and Y.Shoham (Stanford University)

3. Useful Genetics: R. Redfield, UBC

4. Climate Literacy: S. Harris and S. Burch, UBC

5. Introduction to Systematic Program Design: G. Kizcales, UBC

In terms of comparability I’m going to treat Game Theory I and II as one MOOC, as combined they were about the same length as the other MOOCs (between 8-12 weeks)

Basic statistics

330,150 signed up (82,500 on average per course)

164,935 logged in at least once (41,000 per course)

12,031 took final exam (3,000 per course)

8,174 earned course certificate (2,000 per course)

60-70% already had a post-secondary degree

30-40% were North American, with participants from nearly every country in the world.

Course development

None of the instructors had taught an online course before, but were supported by instructional designers, media development staff, and academic assistants (graduate and undergraduate students).

One major difference between UBC MOOCs and its online credit courses (which are primarily LMS-based) was the extensive use of video, the main component of the MOOC pilot courses.

Video production

305 videos constituting a total of 65 hours were produced. Each MOOC used a different method of production:

  • Intensive studio (Climate Literacy)
  • Hybrid studio plus instructor desktop (Systematic Program Design)
  • Light studio production (Game Theory I and II)
  • Instructor desktop (Useful Genetics)

Web pages

All the MOOCs except Games Theory also included weekly modules as HTML-based web pages, which is a variation of the Coursera design default model. Altogether 98 HTML module pages were developed. The weekly modules were used to provide guidance to students on learning goals, amount of work expected, an overview of activities, and additional quiz or assignment help. (All standard practice in UBC’s LMS-based credit courses.)

Assessment

1,049 quiz questions were developed, of which just over half were graded.

There were four peer assessments in total across all the MOOCs.

Course delivery

As well as the faculty member responsible for each MOOC, graduate and undergraduate academic assistants were a crucial component of all courses, with the following responsibilities:

  • directly assisting learners
  • troubleshooting technical problems
  • conducting quality assurance activities

There was very little one-on-one interaction between the main instructor and learners, but academic assistants monitored and moderated the online forum discussions.

Costs

As always, costing is a difficult exercise. Appendix B of the report gives a pilot total of $217,657, but this excludes academic assistance or, perhaps the most significant cost, instructor time.

Working from the video production costs ($95,350) and the proportion of costs (44%) devoted to video production in Figure 1 in the report, I estimate the direct cost at $216,700, or approximately $54,000 per MOOC, excluding faculty time and co-ordination support, but including academic assistance.

However, the range of cost is almost as important. The video production costs for Climate Literacy, which used intensive studio production, were more than six times the video production costs of Systematic Program Design (hybrid studio + desktop).

MOOCs as OERs

  • the UBC instructors are using their MOOC materials in their own on-campus, for-credit classes in a flipped classroom model
  • courses are left open and active on Coursera for self-paced learning
  • porting of video materials as open access YouTube videos
  • two courses (Climate Literacy and Useful Genetics) added Creative Commons licenses for re-use

Challenges

  • copyright clearance (Coursera owns the copyright so third party copyright needs to be cleared)
  • higher than expected time demands on all involved
  • iterative upgrades to the Coursera platform
  • partner relationship management (UBC + Coursera + Stanford University) was time-consuming.
  • training and managing academic assistants, especially time management
  • the Coursera platform limited instructors’ ability to develop desired course activities
  • Coursera’s peer assessment functionality in particular was limiting

Lessons

  • UBC’s prior experience in credit-based online learning led to better-designed, more interactive and more engaging MOOCs
  • learners always responded positively to instructor ‘presence’ in forums or course announcements
  • MOOC students were motivated by grades
  • MOOC students were willing to critically engage in critiquing instructors’ expertise and teaching
  • open publishing via MOOCs is a strong motivator for instructors
  • MOOCs require significant investment.

Conclusion

All the MOOCs received positive feedback and comments from students. UBC was able to gain direct experience in and knowledge of MOOCs and look at how this might inform both their for-credit on-campus and online teaching. UBC was also able to bring its experience in for-credit online learning to strengthening the design of MOOCs. Lastly it was able to make much more widely known the quality of UBC instructors and course materials.

Comment

First, congratulations to UBC for

  • experimenting with MOOCs
  • conducting the evaluation
  • making the report publicly available.

It is clear from the comments of participants in the appendices that at least some of the participants (we don’t know how many) were very pleased with the courses. As usual though with evaluation reports on MOOCs, there is no assessment of learning other than the end of course quiz-based tests. I don’t care too much about completion rates, but some measurement of student satisfaction would have been helpful.

It is also significant that UBC has now decided to move from Coursera to edX as its platform for MOOCs. edX, which is open source and allows partners to modify and adapt the platform, provides the flexibility that Coursera lacked, despite its many iterative ‘improvements’.

This also demonstrates the hubris of MOOC platform developers in ignoring best design principles in online learning when they designed their platforms. It is clear that UBC designers were able to improve the design of their MOOCs by drawing on prior for-credit online experience, but also that the MOOC platforms are still very limited in enabling the kind of learning activities that lead to student engagement and success.

The UBC report also highlighted the importance (and cost) of providing some form of learner support in course delivery. The use of academic assistants in particular clearly made the MOOCs more interactive and engaging, as well as limited but effective interventions from the instructors themselves, once again supported by (and confirming) prior research on the importance of instructor presence for successful for-credit online learning.

I very much appreciate the cost data provided by UBC, and the breakdown of production and delivery costs is extremely valuable, but I have to challenge the idea of providing any costs that exclude the time of the instructors. This is by far the largest and most important cost in MOOCs and the notion that MOOCs are free of instructor cost is to fly in the face of any respectable form of economics.

It is clear that MOOCs are more expensive to date per hour of study time than LMS-based for-credit online courses. We still do not have enough data to give a precise figure, and in any case, as the UBC study shows, cost is very much a factor of design. However, even without instructors costs, the UBC MOOCs at $54,000 each for between 8-12 weeks are already more than the average cost of a 13 week for-credit LMS-based online course, including instructor time.

This is partly due to the increased instructor time in preparation/production, but also to the higher cost of video production.  I am not against the use of video in principle, but it must add value. Using it for content transmission when this can be done so much more cheaply textually and/or by audio is a waste of the medium’s potential (although perhaps more motivating for the instructor).

More importantly, every institution contemplating MOOCs needs to do a cost-benefit exercise. Is it better to invest in MOOCs or credit-based online learning or both? If MOOCs are more expensive, what are the added benefits they provide and does this more than make up for not only the extra cost, but the lost opportunity of investing in (more) credit-based online learning or other forms of campus-based learning? I know what my answer would be.

 

MIT, learning technologies, and developing countries: lessons in technology transfer

Listen with webReader

 

This week I spent three days at the MIT LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium) conference in Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the theme: ‘Realizing the Dream: Education Becoming Available to All. Will the World take Advantage?’.

Because there is so much information that I would like to share, I am dividing this into two posts. This post will focus mainly on the activities reported from around the world, although many of these projects are related to or supported by MIT faculty and staff volunteers.

My second post, MOOCs, MIT and Magic, will focus on what MIT is doing to support technology-enabled learning, mainly at home.

But first some words about the conference.

LINC

The Learning International Networks Consortium (LINC) is an MIT-managed international initiative that began in 2001 and is operated by a growing team of MIT faculty, student and staff volunteers. 

The mission of the LINC project is: With today’s computer and telecommunications technologies, every young person can have a quality education regardless of his or her place of birth or wealth of parents.

LINC was the brain-child of Richard Larson, Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT.

The conference

LINC 2013 was the sixth conference on this theme organized by MIT. It presented a range of topics, technologies and strategies for technology-enabled learning for developing countries, and raised a number of questions about the implementation of learning technologies within developing countries. There were over 300 participants from 49 countries.

The conference was supported by MIT, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, and Fujitsu, enabling many participants from developing countries to be supported in their travel and accommodation.

I report below just a selection of the many sessions around the theme of technology-supported education in or for developing countries, and I apologize that for space reasons, I can’t give a full report on all the sessions.

MOOCs

The conference started with a session on four perspectives on MOOCs, with four speakers making short 20 minute presentations followed by a Q&A panel with the four speakers fielding questions from the audience. I was one of the speakers in this session, and because the session deserves a whole report on its own, I discuss this in more detail in my second post, MOOCs, MIT and Magic.

Sufficient here to say that Sir John Daniel made a point reinforced by speakers in other sections that open and virtual universities have been delivering mass credit-based open learning in developing countries for many decades before MOOCs arrived.

The state of technology-enabled education around the world

The future direction of virtual universities

John Daniel’s point was picked up in this session, when Presidents/Rectors from Tec de Monterrey’s Virtual University in Mexico, the African Virtual University, and the Virtual University of Pakistan described the activities of their institutions. In each case, these projects are reaching very large numbers of students in their own countries or region (around 100,000 each), but each institution has its own sets of challenges as well, especially in reaching the very poor or disadvantaged. However, each of these institutions seems to have a sustainable funding base which promises well for the future.

Bakary Diallo, Rector, African Virtual University

Reaching poor young men in Latin America

Fernando Reimers, the Director of the International Education Policy Program at Harvard, discussed the challenges that youth face in developing countries, particularly adolescent boys and young men, who are turned off by traditional teaching methods that neither fit their learning styles nor prepare them for the skills and knowledge needed in today’s workforce. He pointed out that less than 1% of the poorest 10% in Brazil have Internet access. (Similarly, in Mexico, less than 5% of socio-economic groups C, D and E currently have Internet access, and these three groups constitute almost two-thirds of the population.)

National educational policies and educational reform

Robin Horn discussed a World Bank project, SABER, which stands for A Systems Approach to Better Educational Results. The World Bank has found that often educational reform initiatives fail to gain traction in many countries because they do not align with existing government policies (or put another way, without changing policies, the reforms will not gain traction.) By looking at countries that have successful educational outcomes, and comparing their policies with the policies in other developing countries, it is hoped to identify barriers to educational reform. One example is telecommunications policies. An over-regulated, government controlled access to bandwidths can lead to high Internet costs due to lack of competition, whereas loose or unregulated government policies allow for competition resulting in both increased access and lower Internet costs (Canadian government: please note). Mike Trucano at the World Bank is identifying policies that appear to facilitate or inhibit the application of learning technologies in developing countries and this will be added to SABER in the near future.

The SABER website is packed full of data and analysis and makes fascinating reading for policy aficionados, and certainly my experience is that in all countries (not just developing countries) government policies do have a major influence on innovation and change in education. However, at the same time, ‘top-down’ strategies for increasing the use of learning technologies rarely work (South Korea may be an example of this – see below). In other words, government policies can foster or inhibit educational reform, but the reforms themselves will often have to come from or be supported by those close to the action, the teachers, parents and other stakeholders who will gain most from the changes.

Reaching the poor through educational TV in Brazil

Lúcia Araújo, the CEO of Canal Futura, an educational television network in Brazil, described the extensive use of ‘open source’ educational television and support materials that are being used by teachers throughout Brazil to support their classroom teaching. The programs are freely accessible through public television stations throughout Brazil, and almost 100% of homes in Brazil have access to television, a reminder that in many countries there are still better alternatives than the Internet to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged.

Online universities in Korea and SE Asia

Okwha Lee from Chungbuk National University in South Korea gave an overview of national educational technology developments in South Korea. In terms of sheer scale of online learning South Korea is one of the world’s leaders, with 21 cyber or online universities alone serving over 100,000 Korean students. The South Korean government plays a heavy hand in financing and managing national educational technology initiatives, through KERIS (the Korean Education and Research Information Service), and some of its centralization of data collection and top-down policies have provoked both hunger strikes and a national teachers’ strikes. South Korea has also invested in the ASEAN cyber university, which will include students from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Mynmar, with plans to extend it later to other ASEAN countries. Initially students will access programs through local e-learning centres.

Using Intranets to lower the cost of online learning in Africa

Cliff Missen, Director of the WiderNet Project and eGranary, gave a fascinating talk based around access to online learning in Africa. The WiderNet Project is a nonprofit organization, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that is dedicated to improving digital communications to all communities and individuals around the world in need of educational resources, knowledge, and training. Cliff Missen’s focus was on the high cost of Internet access for learners in developing countries, pointing out that while mobile phones are widespread in Africa, they operate on very narrow bandwidths. For instance, it costs US$2 to download a typical YouTube video – equivalent to a day’s salary for many Africans. Programs requiring extensive bandwidth, such as video lectures, are therefore prohibitively expensive for most Africans.

The WiderNet solution is the development of local Intranets linked to an extensive local library of open educational resources, the e-Granary project. The eGranary Digital Library — “The Internet in a Box” — is an off-line information store that provides instant access to over 30 million Internet resources to institutions lacking adequate Internet access. Through a process of copying web sites (with permission) and delivering them to partner institutions in developing countries, this digital library delivers instant access to a wide variety of educational resources including video, audio, books, journals, and Web sites. This means setting up local servers and terminals, and even building a small wireless station to cover the surrounding community, but not necessarily linked into the wider Internet. This cuts down substantially on the cost of accessing digital educational resources.

MIT BLOSSOMS: Math and Science Video Lessons for High School Classes

This project has developed over 60 short videos to enrich science and math high school lessons, all freely available to teachers as streaming video and Internet downloads and as DVDs and videotapes. The videos are made in short sections, with stopping points for student and teacher activities built into the videos and supported by the teachers’ guide to each video

What makes this program particularly interesting is that many of the videos have been developed in developing countries, through partnerships between MIT and local schools and teachers, and with local presenters, often from high schools themselves. The videos are of high quality, both in terms of content, which is guaranteed by oversight from MIT professors, and in production quality. There is a strong emphasis in relating science and math to everyday life. For examples see: How Mosquitoes Fly in Rain (made in the USA) and Pythagoras and the Juice Seller (made in Jordan).

As a result, these videos are also being increasingly used by schools in the USA as well as by schools in developing countries. Although some of the programs are made in the native language of the country where they are made, they are also provided with English sub-titles or with also a voice-over version. By developing programs with local teachers, programs can be fully integrated within the national curriculum, and MIT BLOSSOMS team has also shown how each video relates to individual US state curricula.

What MIT is doing in technology-enabled learning

This session focused on MIT’s other activities in technology-enabled learning. I will discuss this in more detail in my second post, MOOCs, MIT and Magic.

Parallel sessions

In addition to the above plenary sessions there were also 72 presentations, each of roughly ten minutes, in parallel sessions. I cannot possibly report on them all, but I will report on two that I found really interesting .

Taylor’s University, a private university in Malaysia, is using the iPad for teaching foundational engineering. The iPads are used to access  iBooks and electronic study materials that have been specially developed by the School of Engineering to support and enhance the students’ learning. Many of the animations and applications were specially developed by final year undergraduate students, working with their professor, Mushtak Al-Atabi. There is a video on YouTube that includes a good demonstration of how the iPad is used.

The second was presented by Ahmed Ibrahim in behalf of a team of researchers from McGill University and the University of British Columbia in Canada. They investgated through interviews “sources of knowledge” for students entering a gateway science course. The found that the most common source of ‘physics’ knowledge for the students is the teacher, followed by the textbook and other sources such as the Internet – what the researchers called testimony. Few students used deduction, induction or experimentation as means to ‘verify’ their knowledge. Thus the students did not feel empowered to be able to generate valid physics knowledge by themselves and  they have to turn to experts for it. In other words students are taught about science, rather than doing science, in high schools. They concluded that instructors need to use instructional methods, and activities that promote deeper learning, more conceptual knowledge construction, and more sophisticated epistemological beliefs. In other words, stay away from information transmission and focus on activities that encourage scientific thinking. Although this is a general finding (and based on a very small sample), it is significant for what I have to say in my next post about MOOCs and teaching science.

Conclusions

This was one of the most interesting conferences I have been to for a long time. It brought together practitioners in using technology-enabled learning, primarily in science, math and engineering, from a wide range of countries. As a result there was a wide range of approaches, from the highly ‘engineering-based’ approach of MIT with a focus on advanced or new technologies such as MOOCs, to practitioners tackling the challenges of lack of access to or the high cost of the Internet in many developing countries.

In particular, Internet access remains a major challenge, even in newly emerging countries with dynamic economies, such as Brazil, Mexico, and India, especially for reaching beyond the relatively wealthy middle classes. Even in economically advanced countries such as Canada, wideband access, needed for video-lecture based MOOCs for instance, is problematic for many disadvantaged groups such as the urban poor or for remote aboriginal reserves.

I was therefore interested to see that non-Internet based technologies such as radio, broadcast television or DVDs are still immensely valuable technologies for reaching the poor and disadvantaged in developing countries, as are Internet-linked local learning centres and/or Intranets.

Lastly, despite nearly 80 years of aid to developing countries, finding technology-enabled solutions to increasing access to education that are long-term and sustainable remains a challenge, especially when the aid is generated and organized from developed countries such as the USA and Canada. Local partnerships, cultural adaptation, use of appropriate, low-cost technologies, teacher education, and institutional and government policy changes are all needed if technology transfer is to work.

However, there is clear evidence from this conference that in many developing or economically emerging countries, there are local individuals and institutions finding local and appropriate ways to use technology to support learning. It will often start in the more affluent schools or in universities, but as the Internet gradually widens its spread, it begins to filter down to lower income groups as well. Indeed, in some areas, such as mobile learning in Africa, there is innovation and development taking place that exceeds anything in the developed world, in terms of originality and spread amongst the poor and disadvantaged.

The MIT group behind LINC has done a great service in providing a means for participants from both developed and developing countries to share experience and knowledge in this area.

 

Innovative online bachelor’s degree from University of Washington

Listen with webReader

© Glenn Rikowski, 2012

Long, K. (2013) UW to offer first all-online degree-completion program The Seattle Times, March 28

Although many universities offer online courses at the bachelor’s level, and fully online master programs, whole bachelor’s programs offered fully online are comparatively rare from major public research universities (although much more common from for-profits, such as University of Phoenix).

The University of Washington program, which begins this fall, is a bachelor of early childhood education, based on ‘years of research done at the UW on the best ways to teach preschoolers.’ More details of the program can be found by clicking here.

There are several interesting features of the program:

  • designed mainly for students transferring in with already an associate degree or 70 or more eligible credits for transfer
  • focused on people already working in child care (preference to registered Washington state residents)
  • partnership with several local community colleges for credit transfer
  • uses video of ‘good’ examples of teaching practice (as well as televised lectures)
  • students make their own videos of themselves practicing those techniques in preschool classrooms
  • limited to 100 students initially, but possibly growing to 300 students a year later
  • aims to fill a major labour market gap in the state
  • much lower average cost for students: $160 per credit = $7,000 for full degree
  • supported by a grant, which with student tuition fees enables the program to be fully cost-recoverable without state funding

UW’s President stated that UW will ‘soon’ be offering several more bachelor degree completion and even some full bachelor’s programs fully online.

Comment

This online strategy appears to be particularly well developed. One major barrier to fully online bachelor programs is that students straight out of high school are often considered unready for online learning, given the self-discipline required and their perceived lack of independent learning skills. However, as this program indicates, not all people wanting a bachelor degree are 18 year olds. Many already have a college certificate or diploma, and relevant work experience.

I was also interested in the proposed use of video. The cost of making reasonable quality video has dropped dramatically, and although there is a long history of the use of video in teacher education, education is not the only field where practices and procedures can be demonstrated via video, both by instructors and by student practitioners.

Lastly, this is a public research university operating a different business model that not only lowers costs to students, but is self-financing without state funding. This is because the University of Washington received funding for this program from the Next Generation Learning Challenge program, which is funded mainly by the Gates and Hewlett Foundations. The NGLC program is having a  major impact across the USA in encouraging institutions to experiment with online and open learning in innovative ways (I was one of the many grant proposal evaluators – but did not evaluate this proposal).

We don’t have access to such grant programs in Canada, at least in recent years. This is a role perhaps that is needed from the Canadian Federal government, but this is unlikely to happen under the current Conservatives, unfortunately, as they wish to decrease rather than increase the federal government’s role in health and education. However, as this program indicates, the return on investment from such grants for the system as a whole is high. In any case, this model could help reduce at least student tuition costs, with state FTE funding being used to replace the philanthropic funding.

Over to you

Can you let me know of other fully online bachelor degrees being offered by public research universities or state universities?

 

 

Throttling access to online learning

Listen with webReader

Lennett, B. and Kehl, D. (2103) Capping the Nation’s Broadband Future Washington DC: New America Foundation

Lennett, B. and Kehl, D. (2013) Data Caps Could Dim Online Learning’s Bright Future Chronicle of Higher Education, March 4

Lennett and Kehl provide a good, clear summary of their report in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Basically they are concerned about the following:

  • two companies (AT&T and Verizon) control two-thirds of the mobile market in the U.S.
  • these two companies are charging extra for anything more than a gigabyte of data per month
  •  if you tried to stream video lectures on that connection, you’d reach the data cap after about three hours and then face fees of $15 per gigabyte. If you tried to complete a course with 15 hours of video a month, your phone bill could arrive with as much as $70 in extra fees
  • roughly 19 million Americans still don’t have access to Internet service capable of streaming a video lecture
  • this will seriously inhibit online learning, especially for the poor and those in rural areas.

Their solution:

  • get the FCC to increase competition between wireless carriers, especially in rural areas (a familiar recommendation for Canadians)
  • get the government to invest more heavily in rural broadband connections through something like the New Deal Rural Electrification program.

Comment

Why stream video lectures? This is an absurdly expensive and inefficient way of doing online learning. Once again, we have people assuming that there was no online learning before video lecture capture.

Second, surely the issue is throttling, not online learning. Telecommunications companies should not be allowed to restrict selectively bandwidth use, or to try to cap Internet access, full stop.

Innovation in teaching in Ontario universities

Listen with webReader

 

Council of Ontario Universities (2012) Beyond the sage on the stage: innovative and effective teaching and learning in Ontario universities Toronto ON: COU

This document provides an overview and analysis of innovative teaching practices in Ontario’s 24 universities:

There are many examples of innovative and effective teaching and learning strategies at Ontario universities, some of which will be shared here. The examples set out in this document reflect both practices that are well-established in many universities, and those that are evolving. 

With regard to online learning and the use of learning technologies, the document lists the following examples (this is a selection of what I found the most interesting – for example, I don’t find the use of clickers innovative):

  • Video recording: 

Carleton University: Robert Burk’s General Chemistry course (700 students): lectures, tutorials and other course materials are broadcast via cable television, webcast, video on demand, iTunes and a course website, combined with personal e-mails to every student. The materials are the most downloaded items from Carleton University; some have been downloaded almost 250,000 times in two years. A full third of his students never set foot in his lecture hall, yet their grades are identical to the two-thirds who are studying on campus. For an example, see: Making Nylon

  • Hybrid learning: 

Lakehead University: Dr. Glenna Knutson: the Masters in Public Health, designed initially to serve the needs of public health professionals across northwestern Ontario, uses WebCT and media streaming to ensure that distance students, who make up three-quarters of the class, can participate fully. In addition to taking part in large and small group discussions during class, they can use the technology platform to work with classmates outside of class time, preparing projects and presentations. To further accommodate the professional and family commitments of students, the program provides the option of completing it in six terms, or even 12, to make it more flexible.

  • Digital entrepreneurs: 

Ryerson University: The Digital Media Zone is a business incubator that supports digital entrepreneurs with business knowledge, resources and, above all, space to work and collaborate. It was the brainchild of President Sheldon Levy, who saw the need for universities to go beyond helping students find jobs. DMZ also focuses on helping students create the jobs and companies of the future. Since its launch in 2010, it has grown to accommodate some 200 innovators, spawning more than 40 companies and creating over 400 jobs in the process

University of Waterloo: the  VeloCity Mobile and Media incubator residence is the world’s first student residence designed to enable budding entrepreneurs to work with like-minded colleagues on mobile communications and digital media. It is a “dorm-cubator” for top students who want to turn their bright ideas in web, mobile and digital media applications into successful businesses. The value of companies created by VeloCity alumni is estimated to be about $50 million based on initial feedback from over 200 alumni who have lived in VeloCity. Participation in this program builds a supportive community that helps students succeed. Outcomes measured are not grades, but rather the success that students have both personally and professionally, by engaging in the business world outside of the institution. VeloCity incorporates peer mentorship and connects students  to the world of global start-up hubs (Waterloo, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, New York, San Francisco). Students learn how to manage risks, focus their skills and decide if building their own company is something they want to do after they graduate or even while they are still at the undergraduate level.

  • Universal Instructional Design

Trent University: The Transcribe Your Class project is an example of how the benefits of Universal Instructional Design modifications to a course can extend to all the students in a course, beyond students who have a learning disability. Through this project students with disabilities attending post-secondary education and National Disability Organizations use advanced Speech-Recognition Technology to improve access to information. Lectures are first recorded as webcasts through a software program, Panopto 7, and then transcribed. The transcriptions are integrated into a multimedia platform, which includes audio, video and presentation slides. The transcribed text is also searchable within the Panopto platform. At present, six first-year courses are included in this project. Prior to the implementation of the Transcribe Your Class project, students who required an accommodation for speech-to-text transcriptions worked with the Disability Services Office to have lectures recorded using digital audio recorders, and then paid a commercial firm to have them transcribed. The Transcribe Your Class project means that the instructor can automatically record lectures with a touch of a button. The recordings are uploaded immediately after the lecture and sent to IBM for speech-to-text recognition. The transcribed lectures are available to students within 48-96 hours of the original recording. This  is a significant improvement over the typical five-day turnaround time for edited transcripts through commercial services. The transcripts are made available to all students enrolled in the course.

  • E-portfolios

University of Guelph: E-portfolio use is incorporated throughout the Bachelor of Arts and Science Program. The basic function of the e-portfolio is to serve as a repository where students can compile their course work, writing and other material, including material from internships and other types of placements. E-portfolios enable students to engage in a process of reflection about the knowledge and skills they have acquired in their program of studies, and provide students with a useful tool for making connections about what they are learning.Both faculty and students report that they get to know each other better through“About Me” pages that are constructed in e-portfolio. Senior students may develop personalized e-portfolios to showcase their education and skills to prospective employers, and for applications to post-graduate programs.

Wilfred Laurier University: Kimberley Barber of the Faculty of Music has initiated an e-portfolio for her first-year voice performance students. Throughout the first term, students complete weekly e-portfolio presentations, including logs of their practice sessions and reflections on that practice, and their performances to help them evaluate their strengths and areas for improvement. They are also encouraged to upload digitized files of their performances to the e-portfolio system so that, over the course of their four-year program, they will be able to review their work and see their own progress. Student self-evaluation and critique are essential in the development of musical skills for both performance and education; early results have shown it to be a very useful pedagogy. E-portfolios also enable students to assess their entire university education holistically. This system is an efficient method for both compiling work and exchanging assignments and information between professors and students. There is no need for the exchange of paper documents, and students can receive feedback quickly from their professor and/or peers.

For another 40 examples of innovative teaching in Ontario universities and colleges, see: Pockets of Innovation from Contact North

Comment

First, kudos to COU for showing that there is much more going on in Ontario universities than just boring lectures. Having examples of the ways campus-based institutions are integrating technology is always very useful.

Second, what does ‘innovative teaching’ really mean? Certainly, for those instructors who have developed these approaches, it will certainly be innovative. However, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Don’t get me going on clickers, for example. They are about as innovative as a caveman waving his club. For many readers of this blog, the reaction to some of these examples is likely to be a shrug of the shoulders; for some, it may reinforce your own ideas of where your teaching should go; for others it will, I hope, provide a spark that will lead to your own innovation in teaching.

Third, there were many other examples in this document of innovative teaching that did not involve any technology. They were about different pedagogical approaches (e.g. inquiry-based learning, applied and practical learning, and new ways of providing professional development.) This reinforces my view that just using technology is not innovative, even if the technology is new. It has to do something different and better, in terms of teaching and learning.

Just a couple of negative points. First, where were the formal evaluations of these projects? This is more an institutional responsibility. Innovations in teaching should be independently evaluated, and if successful, efforts should be made to spread the innovation beyond the innovator. Second, what is the institution’s overall strategy for supporting innovation? The COU says, as a body representing universities, that it supports innovation in teaching on principle, but moving beyond individual pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation across an institution needs more than a pat on the head as a strategy. Developing a strategy for innovation is a responsibility of senior academic management.

Nevertheless, it is good to see universities not only responding to the need for innovation in teaching and learning, but also letting everyone know what they are doing. We can all learn something from this document.