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Schoolwear: Wearable Computer Devices on the Rise

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Market Research firm Gartner estimates a nearly 20% growth in wearable devices- such as smartwatches and other tools- over the next year. These devices augment information and notifications from smartphones, and are largely designed to make smartphones less intrusive by reducing the need to access them for minor notifications. At the same time, they provide a wide range of applications for students looking to integrate new study tools. They can easily be used to provide at-a-glance information about classes- Android Wear already boasts Canvas integration, for example. They also work to help students stay safe and healthy too- both smartwatches and fitness trackers like Fitbit devices include heart rate monitors and step-tracking ability, which helps remind students to stay active.

On the other hand, the emergence of wearables also poses new avenues for potential cheaters and other issues. Their small and inconspicuous nature makes them ideal for note-smuggling or other nefarious activities. The nature of wearables is wide and quickly-changing, so schools will need to ensure they stay on top of the curve to make sure wearables are a net positive for students’ education. One way or another, wearables are here to stay—and we’re just along for the ride.

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Big Data Companies Come to Universities

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Candace M. Thille was one of the first people that helped kick-off the move to bring big data to college teaching. She founded the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, won millions of dollars in grants, and has been one of the biggest fixtures on the lecture circuit that deals with data-powered algorithms that serve content keyed to what a student is ready to learn next. Many publishers, venture-capital investors, and foundations have followed her head. These companies are gaining big contracts with colleges and promising a “robot tutor” for students that are struggling with their coursework.

Although this might seem like a dream come true, Ms. Thille has started to have darker thoughts about the industry that she helped spark.  Specifically, she doesn’t believe that professors and higher-education leaders should be letting these companies take the lead in shaping the learning-analytics market. She wants more involvement from educators instead of taking a backseat in the matter. Educators have a better understanding of predicting when a student needs to be delivered new material or when their just not ready yet. By allowing companies to have this power, it allows them to dictate when a student is ready when they might not be.

Universities are the ideal living laboratories for these teaching systems and should be tested with quick feedback after. Some of the decisions when developing the learning software will be hidden from professors and colleges. They won’t truly understand how and where the software believes a student should move on to the next topic. This is essential part of algorithm-based software that is both concerning and unnerving. It’s important for universities to work with companies that they hire so the software created has the students and their education in mind.

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Students Spending Money on Online Tutoring

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One of the biggest parts about going to college is balancing studying, going to class, working, personal health, and possibly a social life. This in turn makes online tutoring and study guides much more enticing compared to on-campus tutoring centers. Students are spending money on online tutoring in order to spend less time studying but get the best possible grade they can.

Schools such as Pennsylvania State University has taken notice to this growing trend. To the point that their own student government voted to “beef up” its own free tutoring options. They hope to sway students from spending money for online tutoring and take advantage of the tutoring centers that are already allocated on their campus.

Most tutoring centers, such as the University of Washington Bothell, is run by students that have already taken a course and gotten an adequate grade. Although our campus heavily advertises these resources, most campuses have tutoring centers that tend to be small and hidden.

At Penn State, the two hottest companies, LionTutors and PSUKnowHow, offer group tutoring sessions for the more popular campus courses. Which most would describe as live-active versions of CliffsNotes for the classes.

These companies are capitalizing on just reusing information that they’ve gathered from these popular classes and are enticing students to pay their way through school.

Students that use these services tend to be those that might have had to miss class or don’t completely understand the material in class. That being said, more schools need to invest more into their free tutoring centers as companies are now capitalizing on the pressure that students feel to academically succeed.

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ePortfolio — The LMS for Students?

In a Q&A session, Mary Grush discusses the understanding of eportfolios with Trent Batson, president of the eportfolio field’s association. Batson explains that there are several uses of eportfolios, ranging from: tracking students’ progress towards learning outcomes; enhancing advising relationships; engage students more fully in their learning process; or a way to get a job or develop job identity. The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) has been working for 10 months to define exactly what a portfolio is.

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Batson also mentions that one way to think of an eportfolio is a student-owned learning space or their own LMS. These portfolios are identified with the students themselves as they have their own space. It is a revolutionary thing since it is suggesting that the students are being active agents in their own learning space. It is also an overview of their education until graduation instead of it applying to a single course. Even though these are student-led, some teacher interaction is also important so that there is evidence of learning and that it can count and is visible.

E-portfolios are basically an LMS, but the main difference is that eportfolios have many faces and uses while the LMS would only have one face.

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Cybersecurity Update: Phishing Becoming More Frequent, Effective

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As other forms of online security grow stronger, online criminals are looking more and more towards the end user as an attack vector as well as a victim. Phishing attacks, which trick the user into voluntarily giving up their personal information to a source that they think they can trust, are increasing dramatically. At the same time, these attacks are becoming more sophisticated in their ability to confuse their victims and earn their trust. For example, phishing attacks frequently take the form of fraudulent emails that tell users that their account has been compromised and that they need to reset their passwords. They then direct users to a fake website that resembles the one they expect to see and ask users to enter their credentials. Once the victim enters their username and password, attackers are free to use those to impersonate the victim. Attackers are quickly learning to trick their victims by including the victim’s name in the subject of the email, among other things. Other forms of phishing attacks could include email attachments that, when downloaded, can infect the victim’s computer.

UW has an excellent system for telling students about ongoing security issues, including emails being sent to the entire system when attacks are being reported against UW students. However, the best way to fight phishing attacks is learning the ability to tell the difference between a trustworthy and untrustworthy email. Paying close attention to spelling and grammar in a given email and looking for consistency in information given can be an effective tool to keep oneself from being tricked.

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