Need-to-Know-News: Video Lectures Go Hollywood, Failed Ed-Tech Program Highlights Teachers Educate Students not Technology & Ed-Tech Event in LA

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.

SCREEN TIME: The HBX Live experience—shown here in early testing—can include as many as 60 participants at a time (Photo by Webb Chappell)

1. Virtual Lectures go Hollywood Style
Video lectures in real-time where students connect to a virtual classroom is not new; live video conferencing for seminar discussions and lectures in higher education has been around for several years, though is becoming more mainstream with the expansion of online courses and lowered cost barriers to the technology. Yet a project at Harvard University—HBX Live, takes the idea of video lectures to a new level. Harvard created a television-style production studio (at an undisclosed cost) as a virtual classroom with carefully designed plans to create “the intimacy and synchronous interaction of Harvard Business School’s famed case study method in a digital environment” (HBX Live). The tag line on the article, ‘The Digital Deck’ on Harvard Business School’s site describing the studio labeled it as “a new approach to online learning” (Hanna).

When scanning the photos of HBX’s studio I was reminded of TED Talk productions with the jumbo screens and sophisticated recording technology that churns out high-quality, polished videos. Yet the difference between TED Talks and HBX Live is the purpose, which for HBX is not to record the lectures for later viewing, but to engage students in a live event.

HBX Live Infographic, HBX Blog

Participants from around the globe can log in concurrently and join real-time, case-based sessions with HBS faculty who teach from the HBX Live studio, located in the Boston-based facility of public broadcaster WGBH. In the custom-designed studio, a high-resolution video wall mimics the amphitheater-style seating of an HBS classroom, where up to 60 participants are displayed on individual screens simultaneously. In addition, others can audit sessions via an observer model. Sessions are expertly produced using still and roaming cameras—creating the perspective for participants of being in a real classroom, seeing both the faculty member and other students (

Insight: On the one hand it’s exciting that an Ivy League school is embracing online learning and experimenting with new ways to overcome barriers of time and place, yet on the other, it’s concerning that a school such as Harvard, considered a leader in higher education, might be setting an expectation for other higher ed institutions that in order to engage students and achieve quality learning in online settings—a high-tech, ultra-expensive studio is the only way to go. Not to mention its premise embraces a traditional method of instruction—the lecture.

2. A Lesson in Technology Integration: Teachers Educate Students—Not Tech
There’s no better example than the disaster with L.A. Unified School District’s (LASUD) iPad program to illustrate all that can go wrong with a poorly thought out technology integration plan. Here’s an example of a school district spending $1.3 billion to put an iPad in the hands of every child in the district, yet with no short or long-term strategy to support teachers (or students) with a plan for integrating the devices into the curriculum or within the traditional methods of learning. There was an inherent expectation of LASUD leadership that by giving an iPad loaded with educational software (provided by Pearson) to students, along with a handful of professional development sessions for teachers, students would be immediately engaged in learning, and learning gains would be significant. Not surprisingly the initiative was a failure. The district (painfully) discovered that it’s good teachers that make learning happen, not technology; and if you have a poor teacher, technology doesn’t make bad teaching better.

What’s disappointing is that a recently published report by American Research Institute  summarizing the initiative, missed the point completely (Margolin et al.). Of its 18 pages, teacher involvement and impact was buried on page seven with two (weak) recommendations: 1) “We recommend that the district consider offering training webinars to enable teachers to participate during contractual time at their school” and, 2) “We recommend that the district seek ways to provide access to high-quality digital resources, aligned to standards and curricula.”

Insight: Until education institutions realize that it’s instructors and teachers that support effective learning and successful technology use, little progress will be made integrating ed-tech tools to achieve successful outcomes. This holds true for face-to-face and blended education environments of K-12 and higher education. It also applies to online courses; though a well-designed online course can guide and support learning of a motivated, self-directed student, it’s teacher guidance and involvement that pushes students to think critically and engage with course concepts.

simplified_logo3. One-Day Ed-Tech Conference—SimplifiED Summit 2015
On October 6th in Los Angeles California, a group of edtech leaders that include Richard Calcutta and Dr. Michelle Weise, are featured at this day-long conference that focuses on educational technology. This summit brings together ed-tech innovators and decision makers in higher education and K-12. The focus is on technological transformation and its opportunity and impact within education. The registration site is at SimplifiED Summit 2015. Use code KVT30 for a discount on the registration fee.

The four key topics:
1. The evolving mobile campus
2. The movement to mass personalization for every student
3. The rise of digital learning resources
4. Integration strategies to implement change effectively


Need-to-Know News: A Degree-in-Three, Future of Education at MIT, & Robin Hood’s Semi-finalists

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.

A three-year degree coming soon to an institution near you

1) Purdue’s three-year degree: “Think 3 Years!
Purdue University announced a new degree program this week that will save students time and money when pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The program is completed in three instead of four years—hence “Think 3 Years!”.  The new program is a result of a challenge put forth to all Purdue faculty and staff by Purdue President Mitchell Daniels in January of this year (2014).

To encourage such leadership, I am offering a million-dollar prize for innovation, divided between these two areas. The first department or program to fashion a three-year degree, and the first to create a competency-based degree, will each be supported with $500,000 from the presidential discretionary account. Any funds left over after costs of transition are the department’s to keep.  (Open Letter from Office of President at Purdue University, 2014)

That’s a considerable chunk of cash indeed—$500,000, and was awarded this week to Purdue’s Brian Lamb School of Communication for their Think 3 Years! program. It’s an accelerated degree (with the same number of credit hours as a four-year program), not a competency degree which the other half of the million dollar prize will go to. Nothing has been disclosed from Purdue on this degree yet.

The estimated savings for students enrolling in the three-year program is $9,290 for Indiana state residents and $18,692 for non-residents.

Insight: It’s quite likely we will see more institutions offer similar programs in the next year or two in an effort reduce costs and reduce pressure from the Federal Government to do so. We’ll also likely see competency degree programs that could include a prior learning assessment component, and/or competency-based assessment. Though the latter programs are far more challenging to develop, the Department of Education (DOE) is fully supportive of competency-based initiatives, offering incentives to institutions to create such programs to address the cost and access issue. The DOE endorsed such programs back in 2013 (Fain, 2014). More to come.

2) MIT and The Future of Education
429px-MIT_Seal.svgPurdue is not the only institution thinking about how to save students time and money. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the same institution behind edX, launched the results from an institution-wide task force on the “Future of MIT Education”. The report is impressive; it lays out a vision for how MIT will adapt and move forward to proactively address access, cost, changes in pedagogy due to technology, reaching global students and more. What is impressive about this report is not only its depth and breadth, but the commitment to change, to be proactive and adapt in order to continue to deliver excellence—part of MIT’s mission. I realize I’m giving a hard sell here, but I read pages 1 through 30 of the report and it’s hard not to be impressed.

Quick Snapshot of the report: There are 16 recommendations in total around four themes:

  1. laying a foundation for the future, by creating a proposed Initiative for Educational Innovation
  2. transforming pedagogy, largely through “bold experiments” sponsored by the proposed new initiative
  3. extending MIT’s educational impact, to teachers and learners well beyond its own campus
  4. enabling the future of MIT education, by cultivating new revenue streams and envisioning new spaces to support learning at MIT.

I found the section on pedagogy of most interest. What’s intriguing is the idea of an “ecosystem that promotes educational connections across the Institute and provides an educational innovation hub, or a ‘sandbox,’”.

Insight: There are leaders in the education field worth watching over the next few years, such as Purdue and MIT for several reasons. Not to copy or mimic, but to be inspired by how change is handled, how visions are communicated and people engaged.

3) Robin Hood’s College Success $5 Million Contest: Semi-Finalists Announced
A few months ago in this Need-to-Know series, I wrote about a competition sponsored by the non-profit organization Robin Hood, based in New York. Robin Hood is dedicated not only to poverty-fighting but to finding, funding, and creating programs and schools that generate meaningful results.  The competition is for $5 million and awarded to individual(s) that develop a successful intervention – a smart phone app, computer application, and/or web-based tool aimed at supporting community college students that ultimately leads to their success—measured by completing a higher education program. There are more details and conditions, but that’s the gist.

This week the semi-finalists were announced—seventeen in total. Results are in the form of an app or web-based application, and they all look quite promising. Many are available now for free. Sign-up with an email account is required for most that I viewed. One that I found quite interesting is Core Skills Mastery, “Preparing people for high performance in college, work and life…”

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know News: Are Lectures Really Dead?, edX CEO on Perils of Unchanging Education, & Will MOOCs Replace College?

Student bored
Are Lectures Dead?

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.

1) Are Lectures Really Dead?
Tony Bates posted an excellent piece this week on his blog  “Why lectures are dead (or soon will be)”, yet contrary to the title, Bates does describe a context for when and how lectures are valuable. Though Bates gives lectures another ten years before they become obsolete, he outlines the circumstances and provides an example where lectures are effective:

  • Example: A public lecture delivered at a higher ed institution by a newly appointed research professor where he delivered an inaugural lecture summarizing his research customized to the diverse audience of lay people and subject matter experts—used excellent visuals and analogies 
  • Other contexts: Lectures delivered as supplemental events,  e.g. as a course introduction where the instructor connects with students by sharing his or her interests and enthusiasm for the course topic, interest in getting to know students and supporting their learning, thus motivating students, or midway through the course to address difficult concepts, or to summarize at course end

Bates also refers to two textbooks geared to educators that convey skills and suggestions for effective teaching methods, lectures in particular. From the text “McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers”:

McKeachie and Svinicki (2006, p. 58) believe that lecturing is best for:

  • providing up-to-date material that can’t be found in one source
  • summarizing material found in a variety of sources.
  • adapting material to the interests of a particular group.
  • initially helping students discover key concepts, principles or ideas
  • modelling expert thinking.

Bates also covers the history of the lecture, and the research that supports why traditional lectures are ineffective. Nothing educators haven’t heard before, yet it’s an excellent summary piece. Below are links to the texts Bates mentions. I’ve also included an article “The Twilight of the Lecture” featured in Harvard Magazine of a similar vein about lectures. It’s about Eric Mazur’s (professor at Harvard University) journey to transforming his classroom instruction; he is now an advocate for active learning and a reformed lecture.

2) edX CEO Gives Keynote at Campus Technology Conference, 2014

“Everything around us has changed. Communication has changed, healthcare has changed, but education hasn’t,” Agarwal said. “It is actually pretty shocking and pathetic that the way we educate learners hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.”  Anant Agarwal, CEO, edX in Keynote address at Campus Technology Conference

Anant Agarwal delivered the keynote, “Reinventing Education” at Campus Technology’s conference this week where he described how MOOCs, (edX particularly) can transform higher education. Though Agarwal acknowledged that the concepts of active learning, peer learning and instant feedback, those used in edX’s platform are not new, yet he stated that  “what is new is applying the technology and making these ideas more scalable and available.”

Not sure if I buy this. Though he’s right about how new technology scales some aspects of education, e.g. providing (short) recorded lectures and instant feedback in the form of multiple choice tests, the real issue is how do these methods transform higher ed? How does the MOOC platform address quality and access?

3) Will MOOCS Replace a Traditional College Education?
The Atlantic published an article this week “Will Free Online Courses Ever Replace a College Education?”. The answer the author (an attorney) implies is no— MOOCs he surmises are like films, almost a form of enlightening entertainment. Though I see more value to MOOCs than the author, the piece is worth a read given the insights into edX provided by two individuals interviewed, edX’s Chief Scientist Piotr Mitros and Richard Lue, edX’s faculty director. Mitros discusses automated grading with edX’s Open Response Assessment (ORA), though “carefully points out that no one—least of all edX—seriously believes that automated grading can fully replace a live instructor“.  That is some good news.

Though what I found more enlightening is what Lue shared with Wintehalter about the value of MOOCs, which appears to be how it benefits the MOOC instructors—by improving their teaching skills back in the classroom.

“The MOOC,” Lue told me, “has been a catalyst that helped us realize just how different things are. I have tried some blended-learning techniques in my own classroom and been startled by the results. The level of performance was remarkable.”

This is a common theme I’ve read about and heardinstructors find great value in MOOCs for the different perspective it provides back in the traditional classroom. They are able to adapt and view classroom teaching differently, are more ready to try new techniques and incorporate methods that leverage digital resources, including those used in the MOOC format.  Perhaps this is how MOOCs will revolutionize higher education—not for bringing access and lowering costs for students, but for supporting faculty in professional development. This is great news, albeit a very costly method of professional development.

You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know-News: Move over edX — Make Room for Unizin, University of the Future, & Tech Lessons from Teens

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.


1. Big Changes for Universities with Unizin
Launched this week, Unizin is BIG news in higher ed. Unizin is a membership-based consortium for universities that provides its members with a digital, cloud-based platform and IT services specific to higher education institutions. It moves the discussion far beyond MOOCs; and though MOOCs have sparked discussion in higher ed, they’ve not moved the direction for the traditional model of higher education very far. Yet Unizin may be the platform to bring about the positive effects of technology applied to higher education institutions that MOOCs have yet to do. The platform includes a Learning Management System (Canvas), has capabilities for learning analytics, and facilitates the sharing of resources and content between universities and faculty. For member institutions, each will have control over their own content, and have access to the tools and services to support digital learning for residential, flipped classroom, online courses/degrees, badged experiences for Alumni, or even MOOCs.

Insights: Why it’s a BIG deal. Unizin is a proactive approach to the pressures facing higher education institutions. It not only puts universities in control, but provides a vehicle for individual institutions to achieve economies of scale, by joining forces and sharing cost burdens for licenses, services for infrastructure, and leveraging input and even content and knowledge between institutions. After reading the in-depth analysis of the Unizin deal over on e-literate by Phil Hill and Michael Feldstein, I can see great amount of strategic planning, thought and expertise behind the consortium, which I won’t go into detail here, but encourage interested readers to refer to.  What I will say is that one of the founders of Unizin, Brad Wheeler, CIO for Indiana University, sees the opportunity and need for a robust digital infrastructure platform for higher education institutions of which they are in control of. He outlines a viable strategy that aims to keep institutions relevant, while preserving its values by describing four different models in the paper, Speeding Up on Curves. It’s well worth the read.

Finding Path to Scale  — take advantage of the economics to get there, (don’t go because it’s fun), strategies have focused on independence, recently dependence, but to get there, it’s interdependence that is the path to scale.  Brad Wheeler: The Path to Scale, Vimeo

2.  University of the Future? What the Students Say
Laureate International Universities, commissioned Zogby Analytics to survey students at higher education institutions within the Laureate’s network around the world, about their attitudes and visions of the university of the future. The questions focused on course design, scheduling, job preparation, placement, internships and more.  The results are surprising. The survey included 20,800 students from 37 institutions in 21 countries, making it one of the largest international survey of student attitudes.


  • Students see flexibility. More than 52% of the respondents believe that courses will be offered at all times of the day or night, and 44% believe that courses will be offered without fixed schedules to accommodate students who work or prefer learning at non-traditional times.
  • Collaborative learning. More than 54% of students predict that courses will be primarily collaborations between students with an emphasis on group projects. Additionally, 43% believe that students will be able to access personalized instruction or tutoring online.
  • Focus on Jobs. 61% of students believe that courses will be designed by industry experts, and 64% predict courses will be offered in multiple languages. More than 70% think career-oriented skills (not just subject matter) will be emphasized.

Insights: When considering the strategic goals of Unizin, and Brad Wheeler’s paper Speeding Up on Curves in conjunction with the visions of the university of the future, you can see a match. This as a positive sign for Unizin given it’s focus on building on infrastructure to support the models for educating students that bends the traditional one, and goes beyond the MOOC.

3. Ditch the Email: How to Use Tech Like a Teenager
The Wall Street Journal published a great article this week about tech and how we (adults) use it. Did you know that only 6% of teens exchange email daily, according to the Pew Research Center? And that many of the new apps out there do a far better job at managing clear and efficient communication? Apparently true. There’s Facebook messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp and Kik.

Also, teens are far more privacy savvy than we give them credit for—over 58% of teen social-media users say they cloak their messages, according to Pew.  Parents (adults), it seems, don’t know it all after all.

That’s it for now. You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

Need-to-Know-News: The Post-College SAT, a Dino MOOC and a SMOC

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.

Dino 101 , University of Alberta
Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, University of Alberta

Two new MOOCs, though not your typical Massive Open Online Courses, launched this week. One is a SMOC—Synchronous Massive Online Class, created by two professors at the University of Texas at Austin. At the other end of the spectrum we have Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, a MOOC developed by a team of researchers and faculty at the University of Alberta, which may prove to be a ground-breaking format for MOOCs going forward. And, have you heard of the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, also known as theCLA+? I would think the U.S. is test-weary but apparently not, given the launch of this test designed to assess college graduates’ critical thinking, writing and problem solving skills. Think of it as a post-college SAT.

1) The Dino MOOC
Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology is more than a massive, online course featuring recorded lectures and multiple choice quizzes. This course is different. Not only is it taught by one of the world’s foremost dinosaur experts, Philip Currie, it leverages the latest technological applications to make it highly interactive and visually appealing, including 3D fossil files of actual scanned dino bones, online puzzles, and a ‘history of time’ interactive tool.

The University of Alberta is offering Dino 101, a high quality and rigorous massive open online course (MOOC) that teaches learners the scientific method through the universal appeal of dinosaurs.  We are drawing on the reputational strengths of professors at the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning (AICML), one of the top five machine learning institutes in the world, and our researchers working with our Canada Research Chair in Educational Measurement.

While Dino101 is on the Coursera platform, we also want to thank Udacity, with whom we have a research MOU, as they have been heavily involved in the pedagogical setup of Dino 101 and we are happy to have their ongoing support. University of Alberta

Insight: This format may be the future for MOOCs. As institutions experiment with the different formats and platforms, and the market is flooded with courses, it will be the MOOCs of highest quality that remain in high demand by students that will prevail.  Dino 101 is a collaborative effort with significant resources invested from numerous organizations including Udacity and Canada’s Research Chair in Educational Measurement. What is also unique is the thoughtful design strategy which targets three distinct groups of learners:

  1. University of Alberta students for UAlberta credit, as either the online course version (PALEO 200) or the in-class experience version (PALEO 201)
  2. Any students wanting to take the course for credit can do so by paying a modest fee.
  3. Any interested learner. And U of As’ website goes further by encouraging families, and community members to participate.

2) University of Texas launches a SPOC
I can’t quite figure out what makes this format, SPOC, so unique and deserving of a headline in the Wall Street Journal. Small, closed online classes, [and even some MOOCs] have been conducting synchronous sessions for quite some time now, yet…

Two University of Texas at Austin professors this week launched their introductory psychology class from a makeshift studio, with a goal of eventually enrolling 10,000 students at $550 a pop and bringing home millions for the school.

The professors have dubbed the class a SMOC—Synchronous Massive Online Class—and their effort falls somewhere between a MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, a late-night television show and a real-time research experiment. The professors lecture into a camera and students watch on their computers or mobile devices, in real-time.  Wall Street Journal

Insight: Again, why this story made it into the WSJ is beyond me, but it does highlight the fact that the public and even some educators are unclear about the numerous alternative options to traditional learning.

Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 3.00.20 PM
Screen Shot from Lunch Break Video from WSJ featuring sample question from CLA+

3)  The Post-College SAT
A new and controversial assessment aims to be the litmus test for college seniors’ ability to think critically and solve complex, real-world problems. The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus [CLA+] is a new standardized test designed by the New York-based Council for Aid to Education that seeks to satisfy employers looking for evidence that college graduates can communicate well, think critically—in other words are a low-risk hire. According to some employers, GPA is no longer a metric to consider when hiring given the number of graduates’ unpreparedness for the working world.

Insight: This test does not address the problem of the gap that appears to exist between what employers are expecting and colleges’ are providing. It’s a weak solution at best, and I can only hope that few institutions will choose to implement it.

If interested in keeping up with what’s new in online education, you can follow Online Learning Insights on Twitter @OnlinelearningI.