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Sharing a New Way to Collaborate and Communicate

Wayne State University has developed a social networking platform, Academia, for users to better collaborate and communicate. It is designed from the ground up to work on any mobile device.

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Academia operates through “streams” which act like Facebook walls or Twitter hashtags. These streams can be created and followed by anyone, according to their permission levels. As an example, users could create a stream for a specific club and invite people to subscribe to it. Due to its successful launch, Wayne State is looking to expand Academia to other campuses.

Over the summer of 2015, Wayne State transitioned over from the old portal Academia. As they expected, there were growing pains, however there was great user acceptance and good performance. They initially created a feedback stream where users could post any problems they ran into, and had to a team to fix and respond to those users’ problems.

The director of academic and core applications, Rob Thompson, mentioned that the platform showed its significant impact when it was used for new student orientation. It allowed students who haven’t even started classes yet to connect with each other and share their interests or thoughts.

The Merit Network plans on expanding this across many other campuses. Some universities they have visited have already shown their interested in the platform.

For more info, visit the article here.

Even Better Wi-Fi: University of Washington Leads Again

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Researchers at the Seattle campus have found a way to make a Wi-fi transmitter that uses 10,000 times less power than traditional Wi-Fi systems and 1,000 times less than existing low-power wireless technologies. It can be used by existing devices out of the box, with little to no need for extra setup per device. This technology has been attempted in the past, but limitations usually involved a dramatic drop in signal quality over a short distance or expensive, custom hardware that did not work with existing devices.

This technology, tentatively called “passive Wi-Fi,” is made possible by separating the digital elements of the transmitter (handling such tasks as encoding and encryption) and the analog (which includes the actual antenna that transmits data). This implementation creates a network that is perfectly suited for the Internet of Things.

As anyone who uses UW Bothell’s Wi-Fi knows, our internet connection is excellent and our network is extremely well-maintained. However, when infrastructure replacements or upgrades are considered in the future, admins would do well to look at the technology that the UW has pioneered for further reducing our energy usage.

For more information, see the Campus Technology blog post here.

The Future of the Transcript

Ever heard of an “extended transcript”? Well for the students at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), they will be piloting a prototype that offers a look at the transcript of the future. UMUC is one of a dozen colleges that are involved in the Comprehensive Student Record Project, a project that was launched to advance different methods of tracking a students’ academic progress.

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Joellen Shendy, associate video provost and registrar at UMUC stated that the transcript at the moment just doesn’t get a lot of screen time and that they want to build something that goes deeper into what a student can do.

This idea has been growing in popularity and offers students more information about their college career such as the students’ papers and projects and how they have contributed to their progress throughout the years, in addition to the traditional grades and hours spent studying.  Customization would also be included where the student would be allowed to modify their achievements – much like a resume – for different jobs.

This new type of transcript will also allow students to list goals they’re working towards, and even track their progress for mastering those goals. This gives students the ability to track their level of proficiency in their skills.  There is even a place where someone can view the student’s work as proof of their proficiency.

According to Shendy, in the future transcripts will give students a better understanding of the courses they have taken and how they affect their career.

Each of the universities participating in this project are in different stages and use different methods to further the transcript. UMUC is one of the ones that are farther along, developing mainly in documenting outside-of-the-class actives and increasing access to these records.

Elon University is developing its Experiences Transcript which shows a student’s involvement in extracurricular activates.  Standford is working on several projects, such as giving more access to current students, as well as giving alumni access to their records and moving transcripts to a non-paper format that are digitally signed by the university to guarantee their authenticity.

Because this project is still new and well in the beginning stages, there are no definitive results concerning this change, but after the institutions participating in this have completed their pilots, the plan is for them to promote this project and their findings to hopefully benefit other colleges and universities.

For more information on this topic, click here.

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.

For more information on this topic click here.

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.

For more information on this topic click here.