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Engaging Students to Learn Through zyBooks

Textbooks can often be long and boring to read, making it difficult to keep students engaged. Now there’s a new web platform ‘zyBooks’ that creates a new way to learn from textbooks. ZyBooks mixes learning activities such as question sets and animations with written content. ZyBooks wants professors to use the web-based platform as a new way to help students engage with course material along with helping students perform better.

Students oftentimes have to reread passages in textbooks to actually understand the content. Frank Vahis, the founder of zyBooks in 2012, wanted to create a platform where students could retain more information while giving students an alternative to the wall of text traditional textbooks have. Vahis explains that the company wanted to avoid having “book” in the products name because the word would inaccurately describe what they were trying to do, however eventually they did keep it. Yes, digital textbooks are hardly a new idea, but the ‘next step’ Vahis argues is for textbooks to provide engaging material that helps students collaborate with other classmates while assisting students retain more information. A study done on students using the platform found that students tended to perform better on quizzes and other actives. Students also reported that they felt more engaged with course material when using zyBook products than using a regular textbook. The product also provides professors with a tool to track students’ progress in the course.

Currently, professors in 250 universities, primarily in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics courses, are using zyBooks. Not to mention that zyBooks products cost $48 each, which is cheaper than the average cost of a new textbook. Originally the platform was intended to focus on courses such as computer science and other STEM fields, but now the group hopes to move onto other topics, such as finance, accounting, and sociology.

For more information on this topic click here.

Evaluating Web Page Accessibility

This month is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, which is a federal legislation designed “to [eliminate] discrimination against people with disabilities.” Often times students with disabilities can be left out of online curriculum, which is why it is important to evaluate if your webpage is accessible. In an a recent article George Williams discussed how you can evaluate your webpage for accessibility, he noted the best way to engage in accessibility testing is with actual people. However there are also a number of helpful tools that can automatically check your site for the most important accessibility issues:

  • Wave Toolbar
    WAVE can help you evaluate the accessibility of your web content. WAVE is easy to use, you simply enter the web page address or browse to a file on your computer and select WAVE this page. WAVE will then provide you with a report section at the top of your page with embedded icons and error indicators. RED icons indicate accessibility errors and GREEN icons indicate accessibility features.
  • HTML_CodeSniffer
    HTML_CodeSniffer Is a client-side JavaScript application that checks an HTML document or source code for violations of a defined coding standard. It can be extended by developers to enforce custom coding standards by creating your own “sniffs”. This bookmarklet can work with almost any browser.
  • Tota11y
    Tota11y helps visualize how your site performs with assistive technologies. Testing for accessibility is often tedious and confusing, but tota11y aims to reduce this barrier by helping visualize accessibility violations. Your file will have a small button in the bottom of your corner document, once you click on the button you are able to see the accessibility problems your web page may have.
  • Pa11y
    Allows you to check the accessibility of web pages your own or others. If you are more interested in fixing issues rather than hunting them down you can use pa11y-dashboard.

You can also look at W3C web accessibility evaluation tools list. Over 40 tools listed are software programs or online services that can help determine if the webpage is accessible. All these tools will help evaluate webpage accessibility to ensure everyone can enjoy your webpage.

Create A Better Learning Space

Providing a well-rounded learning space is not always the easiest task, and can be difficult based on the class size as well. Luckily there is a way to deal with such obstacles. In an article on Campus Technology we find out how multiple types of tests, taken by Purdue University, worked and brought in new ways to improve the learning space of their students. To provide a better experience for everybody, the university had to lay out specific requirements for the new physical space, such as: soundproofing, acoustic panels and ceiling mics.

To create a better learning space, Purdue University had to take into consideration the different needs of students taking classes online. In order to turn lectures around quickly for the use of online learners, “Telestream” was applied to do the encoding, which allowed the school to provide recordings to its students within 20 minutes from the time the lecture was finished. The encoding would capture the lecture and place it into one big file. It was then compressed down into a MPEG-4 file that could be uploaded onto a Web server.

This was a great way to improve the experience for students who were taking the class online, but more changes had to be made to take effect on those who physically attended. It was for them that the monitors were removed from the desks in order to design a more interactive classroom layout. Mobile tables and chairs were also added to provide maximum flexibility for the professors and students. For bigger classrooms, containing 75 students, 90 inch screen tv’s were placed on the wall allowing the students to view anything that the professor would display or demonstrate.

The rooms were all designed to function in two distinct modes: the first is the”Presentation mode,” this meant that the equipment in the room was not in use for  lectures being recorded; the second is “production mode,” an operation intended to capture the class. These two modes could easily be switched between one another with one single button. Though as nice and as flawless as this may sound, there were some challenges the University happened to come across. To see what challenges were faced and how they were handled click the link above.

E-Portfolios New Way For New Career

A new way is being tested to link students’ academic achievement to career success. In an article on Campus Technology, Dian Schaffhauser examines how Portland State University is turning E-Portfolios into a key component in their programs. These will be used by the students and will be carried out for use after their graduation. There are three steps total, one will be incorporated each year out of this three-year program.

Starting this summer, the usage of E-Portfolios will be embedded into as many touch points as possible. One example of this is during their orientation, where students will be presented a self-paced video module about E-Portfolios. The videos will explain what they are as well as how they are used. There will also be a organizational behavior course that will have first-year students begin their E-Portfolios. This will include writing an autobiography and a leadership purpose statement.

In year two, students will develop content that talks about and is able to expose their very own personal strengths in a “team processes” class, as well as a “innovation for shared value” class. From there, they will create a presentation that will be used to persuade a board of directors about a “state-of-the-art innovation process.” The works that are produced will then be added into their E-Portfolio.

Then comes year three, where a “contemporary leadership issues” course will require the students to revisit their project from year one and refine it in order to reflect their experience and the knowledge they gained. As for their capstone, the students have to take on a community project. This project and the results will also be added into the E-Portfolio. Though at the same time, the students will also be going through a “career management and digital portfolio” class.

To find out more about these steps and their possible outcomes as well as questions that it has raised, visit the link below:


Stanford Chief Wants Higher Ed to Be ‘Affordable, Accessible, Adaptable’

In an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education, written by Jenifer Howard, the president of Stanford University shares his views on the accessibility of higher education.

In a keynote talk on “Information Technology and the Future of Teaching and Learning,” the Stanford president, John L. Hennessy, sketched out ways in which technology could be used to provide affordable, accessible, and adaptable education.

Mr. Hennessy said that Massive open online courses “are not the answer, at least not the only answer.” He also went on to say that hybrid and flipped-classroom models are effective in some settings and that we need to develop adaptive courses to help students learn faster and better, potentially saving time, money and reducing student stress.

There are several challenges that online learning needs to overcome. It needs to help students learn better and provide a customized experience, he said. “In a live classroom, a good instructor can see what works and what doesn’t.” but it might be possible to accomplish the same using real time data analytics on how students are engaging what the material.

Mr. Hennessy also mentions the machine driven hype of the 1960’s with a vision that high quality technology would solve all our problems. “it turns out that human learning is really complex.”

For more information on this topic visit the link above.