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User Shadowing to Improve Student Quality of Life

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UX (user experience) teams are very important to the app development process because it gives developers perspective on how a user will use their product. This feedback guides developers to make an app that meets user expectations and even adds features the user might find useful but wasn’t looking for in the first place. To get a better insight on how a user might use their product, the developer will employ a team to ‘shadow’ certain users in order to understand what issues the user runs into and how they use the app itself.

K-12 leaders are already using the shadowing method to improve their students’ quality of life. By shadowing students for a single day of school, teachers learned how much time their students spent waiting in line, how little interaction they had with their teachers, and how exhausting the school day was. Higher education leaders hope to create a UX team someday in order to improve the design of their college and fit academics around the life of a student rather than having it the other way around.

President Meghan Hughes of the Community College of Rhode Island has already started employing some UX shadowing on her campus with some success. Through shadowing, she learned how class schedules conflicted heavily with public transportation schedules causing students to waste time just getting to and from school. Most college currently don’t have a UX team but higher education leaders one-day hope to implement the shadowing method (among many others) to improve their students’ quality of life. Some improvements currently being considered are class registration, class scheduling, textbook costs, financial aid, and the ease of the school’s online systems.

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Can an MIT Computer Learn to Scare You?

In the spirit of Halloween, MIT has produced a program that will learn to scare the user. They call it Nightmare Machine. Three researchers at MIT are using deep-learning algorithm to teach a computer to produce images of faces and places that scare people. One of the biggest fear invoking concepts is the threat that machines will act independently of their operators.

One of the researchers says, “We know AI terrifies us in the abstract sense, but can AI scare us in the immediate, visceral sense?”. He wants to make an algorithm that would create a “fake” set of faces from real images, then another algorithm to extract the image system from one photo and apply it to another. For example, they could choose a zombie-like feature from one image and apply them to a computer-generated face. The result is a contortion that might be called scary.

In order to learn whether the computer-generated images can scare people, the machine needs human participants. The computer will learn from volunteered responses on which kinds of images are considered scary and which aren’t.

One professor that is a researcher on this project knows a lot about fear. The focus of her studies is a sociologist, and she says teaching a computer to scare people will be difficult. Fear is distinctly personal and depends on individual experience. She says that with faces, expressions can be interpreted differently based on one’s culture. However, the idea of that people are repulsed by faces that look nearly human but slightly off – could also be fruitful ground.

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Flipped Classrooms

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With the increase of classroom technology, teachers are finding new ways to structure their classrooms through the use of digital media. The University of Wisconsin’s Engineering cohort has adopted one such teaching style known as the “flipped classroom” method. In this method, the teacher sends lectures to their students to watch at home and then applies those skills in the classroom.

The University of Wisconsin’s first engineering cohort initially started with 4 flipped classrooms but has seen a rise in this style of teaching and even encourages teachers to adopt the model. This model challenges professors to provide the lecture videos, but in return, helps their students gain valuable communications and collaboration skills. Greg Moses, an engineering physics professor, has seen a positive correlation to student grades with this new system and even points out that they have a stronger mastery of the material.

In hopes of spreading the new and innovative classroom model, The University of Wisconsin hosted a workshop lead by their chair of Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), John Booske. Over 30 other heads of the ECE department around the US attended and learned about the flipped classrooms and the positive effects of learning through blended instruction.

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Forget Accreditation, bring on College Audit!

Audits are familiar for companies and colleges. But can the same techniques now commonly used to assure investors, donors, and governments about spending practices also provide guarantees about the quality of education a college is providing?

As higher education as a whole is becoming more focused on results, the audit approach is becoming much more appealing. General Assembly this year made public a set of standard, developed by an auditor, on how it would measure itself on its educational results. Currently, the two criteria’s, job-placement and graduation rates, are just the current focuses. They hope to add additional ones. The company also released specific information and definitions about its plans to measure those outcomes. Specifically, what counts as a job? How does this go into calculating the placement rates?

General Assembly is a boot-camp style form of education. They teach students how to code and gives them the necessary skills to obtain a high paying job at a top tech company. However, this metric that they are creating could not be applied to a traditional four-year program. Specifically, the demographic and types of people are different. You could have people who have a bachelor but want to transition into programming choose General Assembly. They have more reason to graduate and do well as this determines their next career move.

However, that doesn’t mean that colleges can’t create their own auditing system. Traditional four year colleges would have more specific criteria list, but all the same this can help students know what they’re getting into and the reputation of their university.

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College Adaption towards the Networked Age

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Students are distracted more than ever in the classroom. They have emails to check, Facebook to browse, and to be very honest they just aren’t captivated in the classroom anymore. Students used to be much more respectful of the professor behind the podium, now they’re riddled with social media. Although Joshua Cooper Ramo believes that this isn’t because of the advancement of technology, but the shift in attitude towards college and authority figures in general. He is the author of No Visible Horizon in which comes from the time he was a stunt pilot. Some would say that from that experience he loves zooming out to get an aerial view of problems.

He argues in his newest book, The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks, that we’re in a time of change as significant and disruptive as the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. Old Power centers are becoming less important than the new digital monsters like Facebook and Google, and computer algorithms are doing things that even their designers can’t predict.

He believes leaders today are making continual mistakes by assuming what worked in the old system, can work in this new networked era.

Simply as an example, we used to be what our resumes said we were, however now it’s who you are connected to. He believes in order to engaged students, the system must change. University and college leaders must take the reins and create a new system to accommodate for this fast-paced network era.

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