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For those who might not be familiar with it, EDUCAUSE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference claims to unite “the best thinking in higher education IT.” EDUCAUSE 2013 was held in mid-October, 2013, and I was there to investigate learning analytics.
Analytics is the use of data, statistical, and quantitative methods, and explanatory and predictive models to allow organizations and individuals to gain insights into and act on complex issues. The use of digital tools, especially Learning Management Systems (LMS), like Blackboard, for academic data and Student Information Systems (SIS) for demographic data, can create mounds of digital data that could be mined for discovering trends or predicting outcomes. Examples:
- Marist College is developing a predictive model using Banner (SIS) and Sakai (LMS) to deliver intervention notices to identify students unlikely to pass a course. A model was built using grade book data across a broad set of courses. They built their own system out of mostly Open Source tools. They found the most powerful predictor to be student’s GPA. Presentation.pptx [3 MB, Powerpoint slides].
- University of California Chico built a system from server log files and Excel, Tableau, Stata, and SPSS and looked at one large course (373 students). They found LMS usage to be the best predictor of success (not GPA), using these LMS usage variables: total course website hits; total course “dwell time”; administrative tool hits; assessment tool hits; content tool hits; and engagement tool hits. summary of results [455 KB, PDF]; presentation slides from EDUCAUSE 2013 [3 MB, Powerpoint slides]
- University of Kentucky uses a hardware “appliance” from SAP (HANA) to look at data in near realtime, push out administrative reports to administrators, and “how am i doing” reports to students via a custom mobile application. Academic advisers get an iPad application that compiles advisees’ data, giving both advisor and student a better idea of where they are and where they are going. Using Groundbreaking Analytics and Fast Data [7 MB, Powerpoint slides]
- South Orange County Community College District built the mobile app, “Sherpa,” a recommendation engine similar to Netflix or Amazon that helps students choose courses, services, and get information based on previous enrollments, major/minor declarations, and grades. It pushes out warnings and reminders to students via email or text message. Powerpoint slides.
- Coppin State University implemented Blackboard Analytics for Learn, providing a slew of dashboards for deans, chairs, faculty, and students using data from the Blackboard Learn LMS alone. Mesa Community College has taken it one step further, using Blackboard Analytics to also ingest SIS data. University of Maryland, Baltimore County is using Blackboard Analytics for Learn to explore the LMS in much finer detail and assess the impact of faculty course redesign training.
Barriers? Sure. Analytics are hard. The people who developed Sherpa called in three outside mathematicians to help design their statistical model. Kentucky hired three PhDs. Analytics require buy-in and many of the presenters were CIOs, provosts, presidents, or vice-this-or-thats. There is a lot of missing data (e.g., classes that don’t use an LMS), and a lot of inconsistent data (e.g, variance in how faculty use LMS gradebooks). Statistical models are still in an early stage of development and proprietary software, like Blackboard Analytics, is expensive.
For more on learning analytics, visit The Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR), an interdisciplinary network of leading international researchers who are exploring the role and impact of analytics on teaching, learning, training, and development.
This May, Blackboard @ UVM will be getting an upgrade that will deliver some brand new features and greatly improve a few of the existing ones. We’ll be posting more about these changes in the coming weeks, but here are a few highlights.
Test Access Log
The Test Access Log allows instructors to see exactly what students clicked on in an exam. This provides a much clearer view into what happens during an assessment.
The Retention Center provides an easy way for instructors to discover, track, and communicate with students in their course who are at risk. Here’s an example of what the retention center looks like.
Updates to Existing Tools
The Discussion Board tool has been redesigned for an improved experience. Here are a few of the new features:
- Instructors can require students to post to a discussion before seeing other students’ posts.
- Posts made by forum managers and moderators will contain the user’s course role and forum role.
- All of the posts in a thread will be visible at the same time on one page.
- When replying to a post, the content editor used to write a response appears on the same page, in the context of the discussion.
Here’s a video about the new Discussion Board interface.
This upgrade brings a complete replacement of the text (content) editor—the tool used for writing announcements, items, folder descriptions, etc.—and has many improved features! The new editor presents a simpler interface with a more consistent results. Here’s a sneak peak of the new Content Editor.
Bug Fixes and More
Blackboard will also be receiving a number of bug fixes and small behind-the-scenes improvements. Stay tuned for more information and opportunities to participate in hands-on demonstration sessions.
Read (or rather, view), on Slate.com, one faculty person’s evolving position about teaching with this tool and allowing students to present their work with it.
Books upstairs, books downstairs, books in the office, books from the library, books I read long ago, books I’ve winnowed out to donate to the local book sales…I’ve always wanted to catalog them. When Goodreads came along a few years ago it seemed like the perfect answer: enter a title or ISBN and it searches the web and downloads the data. But even that seemed too cumbersome. The introduction of the Goodreads app for iPad helped as you can at least scan an ISBN UPC code, but creating new entries any other way requires use of the website version. The data it collects, or allows me to add manually after the fact, is not quite the type of data I wanted to be recording. (Do I really care if the tech manual I’m reading is written in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person perspective–probably not.)
Enter Book Crawler. It’s an iPad/iPod/iPhone app that may finally make the project of cataloging the library practical. It has a built-in scanner (using the iPad’s camera) but also offers several ways to enter data if the ISBN barcode is not available. You can type in a title, author, ISBN, LCCN or OCLC code and it will search Google Books and Worldcat to find the rest of the data. You can even add an author’s name and see a list of all their works, then select the ones you choose. It has a good range of data fields including one for whether or not you currently own the book, as well as several customizable fields. For example, I added a ‘location’ field to record whether the book was shelved at home, at work, or from one of several libraries.
You can put your book in Collections that you create, then sort your library based on those Collections. You can also create and associate Tags.
It is Goodreads ‘aware’ so once a book is added you can see any Goodreads reviews of the book, transfer your library to Goodreads and the reverse, and share your activity if you choose. If you care to share your activity with Facebook and Twitter there are options for that as well. You can backup your library to Dropbox, send it as an email attachment, or import and export the library as a .csv file.
And how practical is it to create a library? It took 8 minutes to take the books off the shelf, scan them , and put them back. It took an additional 5 minutes to type in OCLC codes or manually enter the 6 older books that did not have ISBN bar codes to scan, then to select the ‘at work’ location field for all 54 books. Maybe this weekend will be the true test–cataloging the home library!
A bit more about Goodreads: Goodreads was designed as a social media system with the main intent being sharing with others your reactions about what you are reading. You can write reviews and read others’ reviews, see what your friends who use Goodreads are reading, even see what’s being reported as read in your local community. The data that you add about each book tends towards things like tone, genre, pace, subjects, writing style, etc. Unlike Book Crawler, there is an Android version. Also, storage of your library is on Goodread’s own site which means if you are offline it will show you a list of your books but no details. Book Crawler does not need to be online to access your library or add books manually. It requires a Dropbox site if you want to make backups, although you can send your entire library as an email attachment. Neither Goodreads nor Book Crawler can automatically collect cataloging information from your Kindle, iBooks, or other ereader libraries, though Goodreads will give you access to a selection of free ebooks that you can download and store in its “My eBooks” area.
It often feels like there are not enough hours in our days to get everything done. To make life a bit more manageable, we need some system(s) and process(es) to help take the stress out of the workload.
Here are a few ways to help you manage your projects, large and small, and ultimately allow you to become more efficient:
Note: All links below will open in a new tab (or window, depending on your browser settings).
- Make a list of your priorities. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Do a “brain dump.” Take a few minutes and grab a stack of sticky notes and write each task that comes to mind
- Organize tasks by categories (e.g. home, work, class)
- Choose a project to focus on
- Set some goals for yourself, organize your lists…
- by priority (H-high, M-medium, L-low)
- by project or location (work, home, school)
- by deliverables (what is due first)
- by importance (what matters most)
- by time needed (how long will each task take to accomplish)
Write down the tasks associated under each priority.
- Schedule your day! Follow this resource to learn how.
- For projects, plan out the pieces and parts – here is a resource to get you started.
- Read this blog post to find some resources to help get organized
- Cross off tasks as you complete them.
- Keep your lists close by and easy to find
- Use paper or find a program that helps keep you organized
- At the beginning of each week update your plan and set some goals for the week
- Every morning review your list to see what needs to be done (this also helps me get grounded for the day of work)
- Delegate, schedule and, re-schedule anything that does not get accomplished
Resources to learn more:
Learn how to prioritize in 12 steps
Prioritizing Projects in 3 steps
Time Management for Students
Time Management: Tips to reduce stress and improve productivity
CTL Blog Post on Time Management (with links to task management tools: Wunderlist, Got Milk, Google Keep)
Additional Task Management Tools:
UVM licenses a Bb add-on tool that allows individual colleges and organizational units to create and manage course-like “organizations” in Bb. Example uses of these spaces might include:
- Providing collaborative environments for Residential Learning Communities and student clubs or interest groups.
- Delivering training courses for faculty, staff, and students to ensure compliance with policies and regulations addressing safety, privacy, or any number of subjects.
- Creating work spaces and tools for faculty wishing to collaborate with colleagues who are otherwise not affiliated with UVM.
Organizations use different nomenclature in some ways (i.e instructors are listed as “Leaders”, and students are labeled as “Participants”), but otherwise are functionally equivalent to courses. Organizations are created individually by an administrator (who is assigned by the college) instead of being created and populated by the registrar.
Colleges wishing to create these organization spaces will need to identify someone who will be responsible for creating and managing organizations in Bb for the college. An email from the Dean’s or Director’s office to email@example.com indicating the primary administrator will be enough to get started. Once we have that information, we will create the administrative space for this person, and work with them to provide as much instruction, training, and support as is needed.
Managing organizations is relatively straightforward:
- The administrator will be trained and supported by UVM’s Bb administrator. Training is not complex – at most a one-hour conversation is all that is needed.
- The percentage of FTE involved depends on how extensively the college makes use of the tools (i.e. how many organizations the college decides to create).
- Administrators will be required to follow protocols in terms of naming convention. Training and instruction is provided to identify these conventions.
- Tasks associated with this role require using a web interface to create organizational spaces. Participants normally self-enroll in these spaces, so enrollment management is minimal or non-existent. While these are not highly technical tasks, the person managing the organizations should be comfortable with computers and learning new applications.
How to tell if your college is using non-credit organizations
If you feel you have a use for a space like this, contact firstname.lastname@example.org explaining what you’d like to do, and we will direct you to the administrator for your college. If your college or unit is not using organizations, we can work with you and your Dean’s/Director’s office to identify possible next steps.
We’ve recently had fun expanding our Media Resources page. There are new links to image collections, organized by Agriculture and Natural Resources, Art, History, Science, and General Collections. There are more video links, too. Read about copyright and fair use, and then go forth… as a kid in a candy store: www.uvm.edu/ctl/mediaresources.
It seems like we hear this more and more: “I’ve been crazy busy!” So, in the interest of getting to “sane busy,” I’m listing here what I think are some of the best work tools and techniques for time and task management:
To-do List Apps: Write down everything you need to do for a particular list, prioritize your list, assign dates, take action, and then cross them off when done. Be sure to prioritize your workload. Work backwards from project due dates to set your deadlines and prioritize your tasks. For more help prioritizing your workload take a look at: http://www.wikihow.com/Prioritize-Projects.
Here are some apps/websites to try:
Remember the Milk. Share lists, syncs across computers, tablets, smart phones (iphone & android), google calendar, gmail, outlook and twitter!
Wunderlist. It has a simple and clean interface, ability to share /email your lists, and syncs with all of my computers and devices. Smart lists and notes here too.
Toodledo. A powerful tool when you are looking for robust task manager. Includes hotlists, filters, sorting, scheduling, notes, file attachments, sharing, time tracking, imports lists, alarms, and more. Syncs with multiple devices.
- Timers to help you stay on task. The Pomodoro Technique is a simple, effective approach to time management that chunks the work into “pomodoros” (or tomato, in Italian)—25 minute periods of focus—followed by short breaks. This is effective for projects that take a good deal of focused energy to complete. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility. A Google search for pomodoro timers or pomodoro technique will yield a lot of results, but here’s one site that’s all about the simple timer: Pomodoro Timer.
There are five basic steps to implementing the technique:
- After creating your to-dos, decide on the task to be done;
- Set the pomodoro (timer) to 25 minutes;
- Work on the task until the timer rings; record with an x;
- Take a short break (3-5 minutes); and
- Every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15–30 minutes)
- Get(ting) Things Done is a time-management methodology, as described in the book with the same title by productivity consultant David Allen, often referred to simply as GTD. The Getting Things Done method rests on the idea that a person needs to move tasks out of the mind by recording them externally, so the mind is free from the job of remembering the tasks that need to be completed. One can then concentrate on performing the tasks, instead of remembering.
I read this book in a moment of panic earlier in the semester and it has been a serious stress reducer. It’s full of ideas to help you, well, get things done.
The David Allen Company lists many tools to help you manage your time more efficiently like TheBrain and EverNote. Richard Winters wrote an article reviewing 3 apps he uses to get things done including the low-tech index/notecard.
You put a lot of work into your Blackboard course space. As we move through each semester there are tasks you can do to protect that work. This checklist can help you wrap up the closing semester and make the transition to a new semester run more smoothly.
Links throughout this post take you to specific “How To” pages at the CTL’s Blackboard Help site at: http://www.uvm.edu/ctl
At the end of the semester
- Try Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.
- Download the final Backup of your Grade Center to store for your records.
- Create, download, and store an Archive of your course. An Archive is a compressed file that contains all the information you have built in your course as well as your student grades. It can be used to build a new course and it should be saved as your backup of your grade center and your course materials.
Before the new semester starts
- Log in to Blackboard, explore the new appearance (upgrade happening on Dec 19th), and check that your course appears with the correct instructors associated with it. Instructors are added to Blackboard through the Banner system, by departmental staff.
- Add TAs as soon as possible.
- Gather your course materials, plan how you will organize them in your course space, create Tests or Surveys, and plan which tools you will use for assignments and course activities. Plan early if you intend to create and incorporate videos.
- If you are reusing course material from a previous course, Archive the material from the old course, then Import it to the new course. Another way is with Course Copy command.
- Begin planning your Grade Center. Visit the CTL Dr Is In so our staff can consult with you on strategies for using this tool most effectively and efficiently, especially if you are teaching large enrollment courses. See Dr Is In schedule here.
- Post your Syllabus.
- Make the course Available to students when you are ready for them to access it.
During the semester
- Create and download an Archive of your course frequently throughout the semester. These will be your backup copies in case you need to restore any deleted material to your course.
- Download and store a Backup of your Grade Center both before and after adding grades.
- Use Color Coding in your Grade Center to easily see students at risk.