Need-to-Know News: Chatbots – the New Online Teaching Assistant and Credit-worthy MOOCs Go Global

chatbot_DM1. The Chatbot Teaching Assistant
Colorado State University (CSU) plans to use ‘Intelligent Tutoring’ in two online undergraduate courses this Fall. The goal is to improve learning outcomes, increase instructors’ productivity and enable high-quality personalized education by using  chatbot technology. A chatbot is a computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users on a web-based platform. You may have engaged with chatbot without knowing; they’re embedded in banking platforms, retailers sites and others. Companies use chatbot software to respond to customer requests for basic and frequently asked questions. There are benefits—cost effectiveness for the company and improved service levels for customers by reducing wait times for answers and the frustration of automated phone systems. But can learners benefit?

A professor of an online Computer Science course at Georgia Tech thought so. He created a chatbot teaching assistant, Jill Watson. According to Goel his students didn’t even notice:

Jill came to be after Goel decided he and his teaching assistants were being spread thin. Goel’s class was a popular online course, and his teaching team receives over 10,000 online questions per semester. Jill was trained by reading questions and answers from previous semesters, and was set to only respond to new ones if it was 97 percent confident in its answer or higher. — TNW

Insight: The education sector is sensitive to robot technology as a replacement for teacher interaction as we’ve seen with automated essay grading software (Larson, 2013). Yet with the expansion of online learning and it’s potential to reach more students, technology like chatbots and grading software will be the norm. This technology is critical for achieving scale and can be effective for some instructional tasks, while not taking away from value of faculty and instructor expertise.

More on Chatbots:

2. MOOCs become Credit-Worthy, Globally
MOOCs are disrupting higher education if you consider degree-granting institutions awarding college credit for MOOCs disruptive. Over the last year  institutions around the world are moving to integrate MOOC coursework into traditional degree programs. Partnerships between MOOC providers (FutureLearn, edX and Cousera) and higher-ed institutions are allowing students to obtain college-credits easily and affordably. In the UK, Leeds and Open University are granting credit to students who complete certain MOOCs and earn a certificate through the platform. In the US the Global Freshman academy and American Public University offer similar programs.

In the United State the American Council on Education’s (ACE)  ‘Alternative Credit Project’ aims to support students complete an undergraduate degree by using MOOCs as credit.

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The Alternative Credit Project features 47 partner universities that accept MOOC certificates to degree programs http://www.alternativecreditproject.com/

In India, Bennett University partners with Georgia Tech to support students working through Georgia Tech’s Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS), an entire degree program based on the MOOC-format. The total cost for the program is under $7,000 (US funds). Bennett University provides students based in India, ground support for while they are working through the MOOC degree program.

Governments are also getting involved in the MOOC movement as in South Korea where the Ministry of Education encourages universities to grant credit for MOOC study.  South Korea is a leader in online education, and is actively promoting MOOC study for credit along with its other initiatives, such as the Cyber-University program launched in 2001.

Insight:  Despite what MOOC critics have suggested over the last three years—that MOOCs are not disruptive, they are. The reach of MOOCs, or variations of the MOOC format, is far and wide—bringing education to learners who can not, for a variety of reasons, attend a brick-and-mortar institution. Institutions and governments are seeing the value of the MOOC format; it’s a win-win.

More:

For more need-to-know news, you can follow Online Learning Insights on Twitter @OnlineLearningI

 

3 Takeaways from “What Connected Educators Do Differently”

9781138832008
By Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas

How do you stay current, relevant and up-to-date with the new technologies in education? What Connected Educators do Differently has answers for educators looking to start and cultivate a  professional (or personal) learning network (PLN) to stay current and connected. Following are key takeaways from the book and from two other resources that go beyond the basics of starting a PLN.

Connected Educator Defined: “Being a connected educator is not a formal title…we define connected educators simply as ones who are activity and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 2015, page xxiii)

Practical, concise and geared to the novice, the book provides advice and examples on how to start and build a personal network using digital tools. It  focuses mostly on using Twitter and is specific to K-12, but the principles are sound and Twitter is a good starting point for learning how to connect and build a network. Within the eight chapters, each labeled as ‘Key Connector’ is a strategy outlining key principles along with examples from each author’s experience. The stories make it an engaging read. At the end of each chapter is an action plan — “Follow 5, Find 5, Take 5”.  There are suggestions of whom to follow on Twitter,  (Follow 5), a list of resources and how-to strategies for building a network  (Find 5), and suggested action steps (Take 5).

Two of the best chapters are chapter 6, “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships” and chapter 8 “Know When to Unplug”. In chapter 6 authors emphasize the value of face-to-face interactions and the strength of in-person connections. In chapter 8 the importance of disconnecting from technology is stressed. The latter is of great value; disconnecting from the screen is not emphasized enough in instructional resources on building digital networks or managing digital information. Developing a PLN can become all-consuming. The reminder is not misplaced.

Three Takeaways
The following takeaways are from the book, from Jane Hart’s blog post “The Future of Work and Learning 1: The Professional Ecosystem” (2016), and from a journal article Scholars in an increasingly open and digital world: How do education professors and students use Twitter (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2015).

1. Unique Mindset Required
Expanding one’s professional network, building a PLN or professional ecosystem is a commitment and a choice. It isn’t driven by company or school-initiated professional development, but is driven from within—where individuals seek out learning opportunities and resources online or in-person. It’s  a mindset where learning is pulled, gathered and curated based upon a person’s own learning needs and interests, which means each PLN is unique. Along with Mindset is motivation; developing a PLN or professional ecosystem needs both. Not surprisingly, authors emphasize that not all educators are, or will become connected educators.

2. It’s about Relationships
Developing and growing professionally and personally involves connecting and interacting with content—digital and physical, as well as with real people. The online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Slack that are used to ‘connect’ educators are the tools, the vehicles that bring us together. Granted, communicating online does require a unique set of skills to build and develop personal relationships, but the personal connection is still central to growing professionally. Jane Hart’s suggests that within a Professional Ecosystem there is a “personal performance support system” and “personal career coach”: people who are central to one’s personal and professional growth.

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Example of Professional Ecosystem by Jane Hart, “The Future of World and Learning 1”

3. It Takes Time
One of the barriers to becoming a Connected Educator or developing a Personal Ecosystem is time. Authors Whitaker, Zoul and Casas offer a solution, “we must make time” (emphasis added) (pg 9). They acknowledge that most teachers and instructors are swamped, doing more with less. Yet their response is that in order to keep pace with constant change in technology and a society with access to an abundance of information, making time to connect and be connected is essential. And time is often personal time, outside of work hours. Though as all the resources stress, it takes consistent and concerted effort to develop a PLN but it’s worth it. I can vouch for this from my experience.

Conclusion
I recommend What Connected Educators do Differently for people who are thinking about becoming connected, want to build a learning network but don’t know where to start. For those who already have a PLN and want to expand it, I suggest exploring Jane Hart’s site Learning in the Modern Social Workplace. Hart is a model of a connected professional and you’ll be sure to find some inspiration and ideas.

For those wanting a quick fix, want to know how to get started on Twitter, this brief synopsis from the journal article on Twitter offers this pithy advice: “(a) tweet often, (b) follow many other users, (c) self-identify as a professor if accurate, and (d) continue using Twitter over an extended period. Whether one views this advice as gaming the system or legitimate participation in the community may depend on one’s own assumptions” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2016).

References

You can follow Online Learning Insights on Twitter @OnlineLearningI

Need-to-Know-News: Takeaways for Online Educators from LinkedIn’s Students App, Georgia Tech’s MOOC Master’s Degree 3 years Later & Open Textbook ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

unnamed1. Takeaways from Career Planning App
College students are digitally connected and social media savvy. LinkedIn is also savvy, they’re capitalizing on this cultural phenomenon among college students with a newly launched app that helps graduating seniors with their career search—now, there’s an app for that. The LinkedIn Students app provides job search checklists, job postings, salary info, profiles of companies that hire from student’s school and profiles of alumni. A key feature—the app sends recommendations daily to the student’s phone.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 1.51.05 PMLinkedIn’s app looks and feels much like other social media apps popular among the college-age demographic, such as Tinder; students can browse through LinkedIn info on their phones with an easy swipe. The marketing is strategic. LinkedIn highlights the app’s relevance, how it fits into students’ lives—conveniently:

You can chip away at your job search checklist in any of your in-between moments – walking between classes, waiting in line at the coffee shop or taking a study break. What initially felt like an insurmountable undertaking will morph into a manageable daily to-do list and, before you know it, you’ll no longer be asking “How do I find a job that’s a fit for me?,” but “Which of these jobs is the best fit for me?” — LinkedIn Official Blog, April 18, 2016

Insight: LinkedIn’s app is smart. It’s thoughtfully designed, meeting a need common to its target group—the career search process for busy, often overwhelmed college seniors. There are takeaways the education sector might consider and apply to online learning programs where retention and engagement is frequently a challenge. LinkedIn designed the app so it’s appealing, meets a need, and meets its users where they are→on their mobile device. Core principles could be applied by education institutions who by analyzing their student populations, can leverage technology and customize delivery of education components to meet the needs of their students. Instructors might also take advantage of existing technology to communicate with students, meeting them on their devices using apps such as ‘Celly’, communication via group text messages, collaborative bookmarking and annotation platforms (e.g. Diigo), or digital  bulletin boards (e.g. Padlet)—all which can be tailored to a group or class.

2. Three years Later: Georgia Tech’s Master’s Degree MOOC
Readers may remember the launch of Georgia Tech’s radical and concerning to many, Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) program in 2013. It was first of its kind—a master’s program from a prestigious university using the MOOC format (large classes, fully online) at a total cost to students for less than $7,000. Three years later Georgia Tech has graduated it’s first class last year, twenty in total, with another handful this year.

The program has fallen far short of its projected numbers, though Georgia Tech leaders are optimistic, calling it a success. Initially the goal of the program was to have 10,000 students by the third year, a number required to cover costs and generate a profit. The program’s business model was built on the program’s scalability.

“We will start another program,” Georgia Tech President G. P. Peterson said during a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed. “We’re very pleased with the success of the program, and we’re looking to expand it into other areas”. — Georgia Tech’s Next Steps, Inside Higher Ed

Insight: Georgia Tech (GT) is a pioneer. While others took a wait-and-see approach, Georgia Tech chose to lead.  Education institutions can benefit from GT’s initiative if they examine GT’s program in light of advancing their own education programming. The profile of students, enrollment numbers, the cost of course development and technology used by GT can provide helpful insights. Analyzing other institutions digital education initiatives can inform decisions, help create effective and customized strategies that address our digital culture and student demand.

Print3. Open Textbook – “Teaching in a Digital Age”
Tony Bates’ most recent book “Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning” is published under the Open Ed textbook project; it’s free to download in a variety of formats and can be read online. Bates completed the book this April.  I’ve read only two chapters to date, but don’t hesitate in recommending it highly, not only because of Bates expertise in the sector, but because of the books’ comprehensiveness, the breakdown of topics, the ease of navigation, the clean and streamlined interface, the writing tone and style. It’s approachable and accessible. Each subsection concludes with an activity, which usually includes questions to consider and prompts for further research.

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Table of Contents, “Teaching in a Digital Age”. A.W. (Tony) Bates

Reading the book on my web browser I found several unexpected benefits. The format of open fosters an interactive experience; it allows for sharing on Social Media platforms (Twitter and Facebook), the ability to comment and interact with other readers, and to annotate individually or within groups using the hypothes.is platform. This could be the future for text books.

Facebook for MOOCs: A Bridge for Student Learning

Facebook-Groups-e1291281035929I’ve long believed that Facebook is one of the most effective platforms for student discussion and collaboration within Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online course formats. Facebook is a virtual meeting place that encourages authentic interaction, sharing and collaboration. I’ve found that closed Facebook groups, created for a specific course, generate more discussion, exchanges and sharing among a greater number of students than any forum within a MOOC platform.

A recent study, The Role of Social Media in MOOCs presented at the annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale, validates Facebook’s effectiveness for student engagement. Researchers conducted a study using three MOOCs on Coursera’s platform comparing students use of Facebook groups to discussion forums within the Coursera site (Zheng et al. 2016). They found that students were more engaged in Facebook groups than within the MOOC discussion forums (see figure 1 below), and engaged for longer periods on the Facebook site, even after the course ended. Students also admitted they preferred interacting on social media due to its immediacy—the quicker response times to questions and posts, as well as the less chaotic environment. Quite compelling is the fact that students stated Facebook gave them a “sense of community” (pg. 423).

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“The Role of Social Media In MOOCs: How to Use Social Media to Enhance Retention”.  Proceeding of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale, pages 419-428.

Why is this so? I suggest two reasons. First, because Facebook is the most used social networking site globally, for a variety of reasons—its low barrier to participation, and ease of use (Pew Research, 2014). Given the numbers of people who use Facebook across nations, more students are familiar with Facebook than any other tool or feature within the MOOC platform, so it’s no wonder they are more likely and willing to engage with their peers. Below are some telling comments from students of the study that indicate why Facebook preferred over the MOOC platform.

“Sometimes, I actually want to reply or make some updates
on Coursera, but when I think I need to login on my
computer, I postponed doing it and then I forgot to do it later.”
“I frequently forget my password or account name. I know this is stupid, but it happens frequently not just on me but on many of my friends!”

Second,  Facebook creates a sense of community. Learners are able to establish a sense of presence, they have a sense of being there and being together. Students can see who they are interacting with—a real person. Facebook is transparent, unlike MOOC platforms where students can sign up and create any user name not linked to their identify and post in forums anonymously.  Interaction within MOOC platforms feels like one is communicating in a vacuum.  This transparency fosters a sense of presence and trust, aligning with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. The CoI model is a theoretical framework that outlines a process for creating deep and meaningful online learning experiences. It’s based on three interdependent dimensions of presence–social, cognitive and teaching presence (Garrison Anderson & Archer, 2000).

Social presence is the ability of participants to identify within a community, in order to communicate in a trusted environment, where learners can develop personal relationships by projecting their individual personalities (Rourke et al., 2001). With its transparency, ease of use, and low barriers to participation, Facebook embodies this concept of social presence, enables students to engage socially leading to dialogue and collaboration.

COI-ANIMsmall
Community of Inquiry Model, Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000)

How It Works
Facebook groups can be created by the instructor or institution administrators as a closed group where students request to join. Though in MOOCs, students often take the initiative and create a group for course participants, opening up the group well before the course begins. Frequently participants will create smaller groups for those interested in specific course-related topic areas; they find one another via the interaction and dialogue. For further info see Group Basics on Facebook.

Conclusion
The study’s findings have tremendous implications for online educators and institutions. If students in online learning environments are more likely to engage with class peers on social platforms, like Facebook, it’s well worth our time to examine further how we can thoughtfully integrate social media to engage students and deepen their learning experience.

References

What Does a Growth Mindset Have to Do with Learning?

mindset.001We can learn to be smart is the premise of Mindset The New Psychology of Success: How we Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential by Carol Dweck (2006). Dweck debunks the idea that intelligence is fixed, is predetermined by our gene pool. Instead, Dweck suggests individuals with a ‘growth mindset’ develop intelligence and abilities over time. In her book Dweck defines growth mindset as a state when individuals view personal qualities such as intelligence, abilities and talents as malleable. This contrasts those with a ‘fixed mindset’ who see  qualities like intelligence as innate or inherited. People with a growth mindset according to Dweck, challenge themselves; they aren’t afraid of making mistakes, are known to go-for-it. People with fixed mindsets on the other hand are afraid of making mistakes, afraid of moving out of their comfort zones. Fixed mindset people Dweck describes as preoccupied with outcomes, the final grade or successful work project for instance, over the process and experience.

To support her philosophy Dweck quotes Robert Sternberg, psychologist and professor of human development at Cornell University who states that a key factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement” (pg. 5).

How Growth Mindset Applies to Learning
Dweck outlines several applications of the growth mindset to education. One she emphasizes is that educators need to act as role models. This contrasts with typical roles where people who are put in an expert role, educators for example, often feel they need to have all of the answers. This can limit their growth and student learning. Instructors need to model behaviours that include showing students you don’t have all of the answers, and that pursuit of knowledge, failure and even confusion, is part of the learning process.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-27-at-11.37.21Applications for Learning:

  • Learners can be taught a growth mindset. Dweck developed a program that teaches students growth mindset principles—intelligence is not fixed, students are in charge of their learning, need to stretch in order to get smarter. Students taught a growth mindset performed better academically.
  • Telling students they are smart, intelligent and giving constant praise can lead to a fear making mistakes, fear of failure and a fixed mindset.
  • Learning experiences need to be challenging—difficult. The concept that learning needs to be difficult is reinforced in Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The premise of chapter 4 in Make it Stick, “Embrace Difficulties” suggests learning is deeper and more durable when it requires considerable effort (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014, p. 73). See video featuring Carol Dweck on Struggle where she discusses the importance of challenge in learning.

Tips for Educators to Support a Growth Mindset

  • Encourage students to be comfortable with setbacks and confusion.
  • Don’t praise talent, praise process. Dweck’s research revealed that praising talent leads to fixed mindsets. Praising process includes acknowledging, resilience, effort, collaboration, and the experience.
  • Be comfortable with confusion, for your students and yourself, and not finding the answer right away.

Closing Thoughts
Approaching learning with a growth mindset frees learners to expand, grow and engage fully in the process without the constraints of IQ or SAT scores.  Following a growth mindset as Dweck describes, requires a conscious effort, a mindset, a skill set. Yet  it’s a perspective that educators can model and foster by their own actions, by making learning difficult, acknowledging and allowing for failure, and emphasizing the process of learning, not the outcome. Which mindset do you have?

Further Reading

References

  • Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
  • Roediger, Henry L., Mark A. McDaniel, and Peter C. Brown. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. N.p.: Harvard UP, 2014. Print.

Image credit: Growth Mindset, bigchange.org

Pew Research Reveals Three Barriers to Lifelong Learning

overcoming-barriers-to-technology-assisted-reviewPew Research Center’s recent report, “Lifelong Learning and Technology” gives insight into how Americans perceive and engage in lifelong learning (Horrigan, 2016). It’s a worthy read. It contains valuable data and insights for stakeholders involved in education planning and decision-making. Yet I’ve identified three themes I consider most instructive and compelling; three significant barriers that the education sector as a whole needs to acknowledge and address in order to improve and move online education programs forward.

Three Barriers
1) Limited Access: online education has not, up to this point, democratized education—adult learners with limited education do not engage, for various reasons, in learning aided by technology, 2) Lack of familiarity with online learning options persists among all adult learning groups; for instance only 14% are “very familiar” with even the concept of distance learning, and MOOCs—only 5% are “very familiar”, and 3)  Learning gap: there’s a significant gap between how some adults view learning in general and their actual lifelong learning behaviours—the majority of Americans (87%) believe learning new things is “very important” yet only 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners.

1. Online Education Fails to Democratize
We’ve long heard how digital education platforms such as Coursera and edX will democratize education by overcoming barriers associated with higher education by lowering costs and reaching populations with limited education. Yet Pew’s findings suggest otherwise. It reveals that these same groups, those with low levels of education and household income, are less likely to engage in any form of online learning. One finding is particularly telling—less than half of respondents with a high school education or less have used the internet for personal (43%) or job-related learning (49%) (Horrigan, pg. 7). This suggests that education providers need to determine how to leverage and implement technology as a learning tool to serve the groups that need education most.

2. Limited Awareness of Digital Platforms for Learning
Quite surprising is the fact that the majority of adult learners are not familiar with digital learning options. While most readers of this blog are likely (very) familiar with MOOCs and for-credit online courses, it’s startling to consider that most adults, even those with higher education levels are not (see screenshot below for details). This phenomenon has implications for educators and institutions; the most pressing is the need to inform the general population about digital learning options. Going further, there’s also a need to educate adults how to learn effectively in a digital world. Accomplishing this will require a strategic and concerted effort by education institutions involving a multi-pronged approach, utilizing multiple communication channels to promote learning options. Other alternatives may require forming partnerships with unrelated institutions as Khan Academy did with Bank of America for their Better Money Habits® program. There is much work to be done.

PI_2016.03.22_Education-Ecosystems_5-03
Lifelong Learning and Technology, John Horrigan. Pew Research Center (section 5).

3. The Learning Gap
According to the report Americans value learning greatly. It indicates that 87% of adults state that it’s “very important that people make an effort to learn new things about their jobs”. Yet the same survey finds that 73% of adults agree that “I think of myself as a lifelong learner” applies “very well”. The numbers suggest there’s a segment of the population who view learning as very important, yet they don’t engage in lifelong learning activities for their own personal or professional growth. Why? It’s worth further examination. There is an opportunity to reach a group of adults who value learning greatly but don’t engage for whatever reason. The report does identify factors that play a role in lifelong learning activities, e.g. household income, education attainment, etc (section 2). One avenue to consider is the role educators could play in closing the gap.  Possibly by instilling skills and modeling behaviors associated with lifelong learning in elementary and/or high school, granted the logistics of ‘how’ is a barrier in itself.

There is no easy solution to closing the gap, and it is closely linked barriers one and two.  Yet this gap deserves special consideration—further discussion among educators involved in all levels of education. How can we as educators encourage and develop skills and behaviors in students, young and old where learning is self-directed and lifelong—where students forge their own learning path based upon their, interests needs, and passions?

Closing
The Pew Report yields important and helpful insights that can drive meaningful dialogue about education: professional, elementary and higher education. Also the role of technology in education, it’s reach, and shortcomings. The report hopefully will serve as a catalyst for action, action by education institutions and individuals to advance and improve institutions and platforms reach and impact, to build and grow engaged communities of lifelong learners.