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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.
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.
The CTL is taking steps to test and install several textbook publisher add-ons for Blackboard. These add-ons allow faculty to link their courses to externally hosted publisher content and interactive tools. For example, an instructor might use the tool to give students access to reading materials and to take quizzes on a publisher’s site. The results of those quizzes can be automatically sent back into their Grade Center in Blackboard.
Publisher add-ons will be tested and evaluated during the Summer 2014 term and made available to the general community for the start of the Fall 2014 term. During the summer evaluation period, a protocol for evaluating these publisher tools will be developed. The initial add-ons to be installed will be selected based on past requests and include tools from McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Carnegie Mellon University, among others.
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:
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.
This semester I had the privilege of presenting the workshop “Building Your Stress Toolbox: Minimizing the Impact of Stress on Your Life & on You.” I held the workshop twice, once for the Womyn@Noon program offered through the Women’s Center and again at the Center for Teaching & Learning.
The presentation was about managing stress to minimize the impact it has on our lives, a topic that affects us all. Stress is all around us, but what is stress? There are many definitions out there, but for this article, I like this definition I found at Mountain State Centers for Independent Living:
“Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand. It can be caused by both good and bad experiences. When people feel stressed by something going on around them, their bodies react by releasing chemicals into the blood. These chemicals give people more energy and strength, which can be a good thing if their stress is caused by physical danger. But this can also be a bad thing, if their stress is in response to something emotional and there is no outlet for this extra energy and strength. This class will discuss different causes of stress, how stress affects you, the difference between ‘good’ or ‘positive’ stress and ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ stress, and some common facts about how stress affects people today.”
Because stress comes from everywhere, we can’t get away from it. My recommendation: Plan for it.
Here is an excerpt from the collection of resources I have collected related to stress management:
When feeling the effects of stress it is important for us to be able to:
Recognize the stress and its impact on us. Identify what and how stress affects us.
Reorient the perspective back to “me.” Focus on self-care.
Realize and utilize the resources around to help manage or minimize stress and its impact.
There are a few different levels of stress, categorize your stress into: low stress, mid stress and extreme stress to plan for each. Ask yourself the question, “What stresses me?” This helps us to zone-in on the causes of stress in our lives. Make a list for yourself in a journal or a document that you will keep in your stress toolbox.
To mitigate the impact of stress in your life, it is important to recognize the signs of stress in and around you. We each have a variety of ways of responding to our stress. Some ways help us to move through it, while other ways just have us moving in circles and creating additional stress. Writing these out can help us begin to plan what tool to use when we are feeling overwhelmed and it becomes too hard to think.
Reorient the Perspective
So often when stress takes a hold of us, we resist checking in with ourselves and our needs. We just try to “get it all done.” This added distracting inner voice compounds our stress response. Maybe it’s that we are used to taking care of others’ needs first and forget about our own needs. Self-care is critical to success. Having a plan helps us when it is the hardest to see ourselves. Planning helps us to focus on self-care.
Utilize the Resources
It is important to have many different ways to take care of ourselves when stress takes over. Start building your toolbox. This is important to do for ourselves because stress is personal, specific, and individual.
“Physical activity has been identified as an important behavior to help prevent the development of overweight/obesity and associated conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. Regular physical activity has also been found to improve dietary intake and patterns. Therefore, interventions targeting physical activity may lead to weight change not only by increasing calories expended each day, but also by influencing the food choices people make.” 1
Or so thought Nutritional Sciences Graduate student Lizzie Pope. So she designed a study to provide new information on the efficacy of using monetary incentives to help college freshmen meet physical activity guidelines, and therefore establish an important health-promoting behavior. It worked like this:
One hundred and seventeen students were randomized to one of three groups: continued-incentive, discontinued-incentive, or control. For 12 weeks during the fall semester both the continued-incentive and discontinued-incentive groups received weekly incentives for using the university fitness center. At the conclusion of fall semester weekly incentive payouts ended for both incentive groups. For 12 weeks during spring semester the discontinued-incentive group received no incentives to use the fitness center while the continued-incentive group received incentives on a variable-interval schedule, averaging one incentive payment each month. During the spring semester the exact schedule for the incentives was not known to participants in this group.
Great. But how was she going to track the students? Well, perhaps she could set up some sort of card swipe system that would record the student ID, date, and entry/exit times for each visit to the fitness center. Great, how do you do that?
Enter the Center for Teaching and Learning. Lizzie enlisted the aid of CTL staffer Wesley Wright. Together, Wesley and Lizzie assembled a Mac Mini computer and magnetic card reader. The Mac recorded each card swipe and entered the data into a central database. The database fed a web site, and the web site was used by the students to track their individual progress, using both tables and graphs. The web site also provided Lizzie with both individual and group statistics and the incentive payment owed to the students.
Results? “Basically, we were able to increase fitness-center use over the fall semester by paying weekly incentives,” says Lizzie, “however this increased exercise did not translate into weight maintenance for the incentive groups over the fall semester. In the spring semester without incentive payments our discontinued-incentive group no longer met fitness-center use goals. However, with a variable-interval payment schedule our continued-incentive group continued to meet fitness-center use goals. Unfortunately, this increased exercise again did not translate into weight maintenance over the spring semester. It would be interesting to measure body composition and metabolic markers to see if the increased exercise had beneficial effects other than weight control.”
1 “Burn and Earn: Incentivizing Physical Activity in College Freshman – UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT”, n.d. http://www.reeis.usda.gov/web/crisprojectpages/0223043-burn-and-earn-incentivizing-physical-activity-in-college-freshman.html.