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Making Lectures More Interactive

Bruce Hay, a biology teacher at the California Institute of Technology, has recently come up with a way to integrate more participation into his classroom and, as a result, seen an increase in the average grades of his students.

He started using an app called SKIES (Su-Kam Intelligent Education Systems) that allows students to create an interconnected web of knowledge about a topic that a professor is teaching. Hay states that “if you don’t have participation, then you’re not getting any feedback on what students are learning…It’s just a half an hour monologue without really knowing that you’re getting through to anyone.” He also explains that it is important that the students become more interactive instead of a passive audience.


Instructors and students are able to post class materials that are linked together, becoming a “class tree” (Credit: Campus Technology)


Anyone can use the app – university students and professors, or K-12 students and teachers. The material that students can post on SKIES can range from text, pictures, drawings, audio clips, links or videos. This also lets students learn from each other rather than just the teacher being the sole source of knowledge in the class.

While Hay is lecturing in his classroom, you will be able to see yellow bubbles pop up on the powerpoint he is presenting behind him. Those bubbles are the questions and comments that students are leaving on the app. Students are also able to thumbs up or thumbs down slides; green slides will have a thumbs up, while red slides have a thumbs down. Hay will be able to see which slides students were able to grasp versus which might have been confusing. Some instructors worry, however, that students who post things onto the app during a live lecture will become distracted. Some professors then ask that the students post only after the lecture, as students already seem to be multitasking enough during class.

More information on this topic can be found on the main article here.

5 Lessons Worth Learning About E-Portfolios


The University of Alaska discusses their recommendations to effectively implement electronic portfolios to gain success from students and faculty through 5 main steps:

1) Promote from the Bottom Up

The university’s faculty senate decided to take a more “grassroots approach” and slowly introduce the portfolios to the campus instead of making it mandatory. They worked on gathering appropriate resources for two years to support the eportfolio. Furthermore, they discussed this idea with the provost office and student government.

2) Dedicate a Team

There needs to be a proper team to manage the work of the eportfolios, and it needs to not be seen as just an IT or faculty development project. The team would need to both do the mundane activities, such as fitting the portfolio to an IT architecture, as well as the essential tasks such as creating a focal point where conversations can begin, be fostered, and then matured. Paul Wasko, an eportfolio initiative coordinator, and Heather Caldwell, an eportfolio strategist, worked with students and faculty to integrate them to the curriculum, courses, and created workshops for them. There would also need to be a team of student coaches to help out professors and students.

3) Master the art of the RFP

The university had to go through a request for proposal (RFP) process that required them to propose to several vendors. They chose the company Digication because they responded in the best terms by addressing every one of the requirements. They were also the cheapest option for them.

4) Hire vendor as the team player

Digication CEO Jeffrey Yan and President Kelly Driscoll participate in advisory committee meetings to “bring examples and understanding of how their tool worked in other universities”. The university was looking for a partnership with the vendor, not a relationship.

5) Identify new uses in unexpected areas

The university is experimenting with the functionality of the portfolio in order to further expand it. One example is Caldwell asking some faculty to use Digication to submit their PMT files. They are also trying to eliminate paper forms as much as they can by digitizing forms like peer reviews. The university is trying to fully integrate eportfolios into the school system, and one way they are advertising it is through student orientations.

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Open Source Resources on Demand

The Campus Computing Survey began in 1990, and it is the largest study that analyzes information technology in American higher education. This year’s survey results were released during the Educause Annual Conference, where top ed-tech officials gather to discuss what’s changed in higher education IT. This year’s survey includes responses from IT leaders at 417 two and four year institutions.

It’s no secret expensive textbooks are not so popular, especially with college students. Kenneth C. Green, the founder of the survey shared that there is a lot of anger surrounding expensive textbooks. Now Open Educational Resources (OER) are starting to look like a viable alternative to expensive textbooks. In 2014, 30.8% of faculty members from public universities responded that they were encouraged by their institutions to use open-source content in their courses. In this year’s survey 42.1% of faculty members from public universities reported that their institutions encouraged faculty members to use open educational resources in their courses.

Although the OER movement is still young, the survey found that IT leaders’ number 1 priority is to help faculty members integrate information technology into their teaching. From the survey 81% of top technology officers at colleges believe that open educational resources will be an important source for instructional material in the next five years.


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Penn State Technology Allows Faculty and Students to Build Their Own Textbooks from OER

Faculty, staff and graduate students at Penn State University cleverly came up with a way for other faculty and students to create their own online textbooks through a tool called BBookX.

Users would simply have to type in keywords related to their subject material, then BBookX will gather information from open resources regarding those keywords. Since this tool is only in its pre-release state, it currently runs on top of Wikipedia. However, once it has reached a wider release, it will support more Open Educational Resources (OER) repositories. Kyle Bowen, director of Education Technology Services in TLT, assures that “expanding future use will be a key part of our success”


The tool allows students and faculty to create textbooks chapter by chapter. Once the resources have been loaded, users can rearrange the material however they like through a click and drag interface

A huge advantage of this tool is that students will save a lot of money from textbook costs and they will be able to personalize their learning through building the textbooks themselves.

Although the primary focus of the tool is towards college students, K-12 students and faculty are able to use it as well. A public demo is not yet available, however developers are searching for “schools and organizations that would be interested in partnering and supporting future research.” There is yet to be a confirmed release date.

For more information on this topic, visit the article here.

Enhancing online learning through MOOCs

Universities are looking for opportunities to experiment with new programs. Many colleges have “double-dipped” by joining both Coursera and edX, two major platforms MOOC provides. When MOOC released their new platform at least 10 of the institutions that first partnered with Coursera joined edX. Not a single edX institution has gone the other way. After adding the University of Michigan to the list of charter memebers, edX has recruited all of the Coursera’s earliest partners. The institutions include the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Stanford University to name a few.

Coursera has a promising business model in Specializations, such as career-focused courses. Edx, has its own benefits, in addition to its code serving as the foundation for other platforms it also provides institutions with the opportunity to experiment with online learning, as a part of face-to-face education. Alan M. Garber, the Provost of Harvard University, shared that edX provides institutions with the opportunity for dialogue, collaboration and innovation. The dean of Penn Graduate School of Education explained that edX provides partners with the opportunity to experiment with the rapidly changing online learning space.

EdX sets itself apart because it has a nonprofit status. Each platform MOOCs creates, on Coursera and edX, provides different platforms that reach a verity of different student population allowing course material to be distributed as widely as possible.


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