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Virtual Labs Taking Over

While online courses are at an all-time high, these programs still have a major problem: how can they can give their students access to software and data sets needed for class when they can’t walk into a computer lab on campus and log in?

At Indiana University, for example, the online course there required a high-end mapping application. Before, the university would put together 10 DVDs or so with the software for the students to use, but this only created more problems and was impractical as the students had to spend time figuring out how to install the software and possibly calling tech support. Another example would be at Capella University, an online school, where the students needed industry-grade applications such as EnCase Forensic and such in order to succeed in their course.

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Now, at both of these universities, virtualized desktops are being provided for the students, although the approaches are different. At Indiana University, the technologists have developed a virtual desktop solution with “zero logistical overhead”, according to David Goodrum, the director of teaching and learning technologies. At Capella, they have outsourced the work to a service provider that specializes in virtual environments.

In order to figure out how to grade its virtual desktops, IU (Indiana University), put a team together comprising of staff from IU, Client Services and Support, and Enterprise Systems. Their goal was to figure out a way to move different classes online in a way that would be a good experience for the students.

While the group had different components already set in place prior to, for students, they were all missing one thing: an easy way for instructors to distribute the digital course files to their students.  What they came up with, is Broadcast. This is a plug-in that is used alongside Canvas that allows the staff to send copies of all the course files to the students through their accounts. With the problem of hundreds of files being sent out, the next issue is to tackle programs such as Adobe products which are graphically heavy and poses performance issues above all else.

At Capella, a virtualized secure space was created. This space is heavily protected and allows students to use some of the same tools that hackers may use. The school works with Toolwire, a group in the virtual desktop and scenario-based training business to deliver this environment. Basically what happens is that the student sees a link, they click on that link, and it takes them to this secured environment.

Using virtual labs has many advantages, such as students don’t need to schedule time at a lab, worry about grabbing a free seat at a computer, or finding time to get to the lab. There are still some kinks to work out in this area, but once it’s worked out, virtual labs will be a regular thing to use in online courses.

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Building a Better Blueprint for E-Books

Professors at the Brookdale Community College decided to make use of the fact that students are on their phones a multitude of times throughout the day. Mike Qaissaunee, chair of the Engineering and Technology department at the Lincroft institution thought that he could deliver academic content into their phones which would lure them to using their devices to academics.

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The E-MATE project created three e-books to be integrated into the students’ iPhones: Fundamentals of Light and Lasers, Introduction to the Automated Warehouse and Essential Mathematics for Engineering Technicians. Professors will be able to make their e-books more engaging by customizing it with widgets and interactive content.

E-MATE is also aware that not all students have iPhones, so they accommodate by having PDF formats of the e-books. That way, students are also able to access the books offline. Students and professors would also be able to save more money through e-books as they would not have to pay for the hard-cover prices. Professors with Apple devices would also be able to create their e-books for free.

Students have voiced their opinions about e-books and agreed that it has helped them learn material easier. The interactivity makes students more engaged in the content, and those who find difficulty in reading text would not have to worry as much.

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Big Data, Meet Big Achievement: Bringing Predictive Analytics Into the Classroom

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Collecting data on students is nothing new- LMS systems across schools almost uniformly record information on student achievement. But only recently have schools started applying this data to help their students get ahead. Colorado State University found that they substantially increased graduation rates when they began to use their data to help find students who needed academic assistance. However, degree-auditing systems often are finicky and hard to use, and give information that can sometimes be incorrect. An example can be found in UW’s own DARS (Degree Audit Reporting System), which often incorrectly categorizes or misrepresents student progress or achievement. This makes academic planning difficult for both students and academic advisers. On top of that, these data-driven tools rarely properly augment the other tools that academic advisers use to help students stay on track.

That may be about to change. A series of acquisitions and mergers in the education data analysis space may suggest that the multiple systems may also be integrated in the near future- and as new standards for software and new ways of applying data are put into effect, educators must make sure to stay ahead of the curve.

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Adding More Technology Reduces the Costs of Teaching?

The hype and excitement over technology-based learning environments have taken universities by storm. Universities are now looking into ways to incorporate online and hybrid courses in order to help students who need this convenience but educators also believe that once universities get a good handle on technology-based classes it will overall save them money and reduce the cost for students.

However, after the hype has dissipated, Randall Bergen, assistant to the president of Bethel University, has found that adding more technology hasn’t necessarily meant reduced spending for universities. This has left him discouraged and the hype has worn off.

Although online and hybrid courses would be most convenient and reduce the sizes of classes, it could also jeopardize the organization of discussion based courses such as liberal-arts related majors.  Most educators believe that to fully make implementing technologies more cost efficient there needs to be a model or change in how the university is structured. This would cause the entire institution to change and to add more time and dedication to educating professors and getting their faculty the technology tools they need to be successful.

However, for courses that are math and solutions based, universities have the greatest opportunity to not only have automatic grading of homework, but also quizzes and timed exams. Though this might insinuate opportunities in cheating. But by cutting most of the time that professors would use on grading, they could be teaching multiple classes of the same subject to allow more students in these specific courses.

There is no particular solution thus far, however with more collaboration with other universities, there can be a cost-reducing use of technology.

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Modeling Classroom Success: Teaching with 3D Printers

The UWB Makerspace is up and running, but many schools are looking at programs that teach how to use 3D printers as well as provide 3D printing tools to their students. XYZprinting just announced their new STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) program, a curriculum exchange program aimed at K-12 teachers, using 3D printed materials and techniques in the classroom.

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Most of the interesting stuff is on the college level, where it’s being used in a variety of applications for research. This is where most of the curricula being developed across the industry is focused, as well. Stratasys (the 3D printer manufacturer) has also developed a college-level curriculum for 3D printing, focusing on its benefits and philosophy as a platform but also on practical concepts. UWB remains ahead of the curve in 3D printer access and utility, but it will need to continually reinvent itself over the coming months and years to stay on top of emerging technologies. For example, Virginia Tech follows a vending-machine style format for 3D printing that somewhat resembles Dawg-Prints: Students swipe their card before printing the materials they need, and are billed from their student account.

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