Students Blog to Learn at “Mind the Science Gap”

While updating one of our online courses this past week I suggested to the professor a ‘blog activity’ where  the student would use the blog feature within the learning management system we use (Moodle). The student will ‘blog’ about his or her text-book reading assignment each week, recording his or her thoughts, impressions and questions. By thinking about the reading, not simply summarizing, the idea is that the student will have the opportunity for deeper thought and reflection, thus encouraging critical thinking skills.

Screen Shot: Ming the Science Gap BlogStudent Blogging in the Big Leagues
Coincidently, that night I read a post on one of the blogs I follow where the blogger, a professor at a university, was launching a blogging assignment for his students that goes exponentially beyond what I had worked on that day! It is quite brilliant actually, Master’s degree students in a Public Health program will write public blog posts aimed at the non-expert community member about an emerging area of scientific interest weekly, for ten weeks. The professor requested that his blog readers consider being a mentor, by giving feedback on a weekly basis to one of the ten students. The prof even outlined the mentor guidelines.

The blog, Mind The Science Gap will use the medium of science blogging to develop effective communication skills by giving students the opportunity to develop their skills by interacting with members of the community – perfect training for students in a Public Health program! It also includes all the components necessary to support student success –  including  guidelines for mentors when giving feedback.

Mind the Science Gap and the blogging exercise I mentioned earlier are examples of how technological applications, in this case a BLOGGING tool, can be applied and used in an educational environment to create applicable and challenging learning assignments. This is an example of using educational technology effectively, creating relevant learning exercises, where tools are used to support targeted learning objectives. I’ll be following Mind the Science Gap for the 10 weeks, and will post progress and observations along the way… check back.

MIT Shakes up Higher Ed (again) with MITx

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) created some waves at the end of 2011  in  Higher Education circles with the announcement of a new initiative – MITx, an expansion of MIT’s  Open Course Ware program.  MITx plans to offer credentials to any learner who demonstrates, through an assessment process that they have mastered the given content of a course offered FREE through MIT’s OpenCourseWare.  Disruptive? Yes – the timing couldn’t be better – just as Higher Ed approaches a crisis with rising costs for a degree and the pressure to show value, MIT suggests an attractive  alternative.

Image  First things first –  What is MIT OpenCourseWare?

MIT launched in 2002  OpenCourseWare,  a web based program  that offered the school’s educational content for all undergraduate and graduate level courses offered by the school – online and available to anyone.  Learners have access to all educational materials – streaming video lectures, syllabi, exams, notes etc.  What is missing is the interaction with classmates, feedback from professor, college credits, or certification of any kind.  However this doesn’t seem to bother the 1,000,000 visitors who go to the OpenCourseWare site each month.

What about MITx?

Fast forward to 2011,  MIT’s  Provost Rafeal Reif launches MITx, a research project in online teaching and learning.  There are two significant aspects of the program:

1) MIT will offer an open-source learning management platform (similar to Moodle) to any institution, ” [MIT will] operate … an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.”

2) The program will “allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx.”

Both of these initiatives are significant undertakings, and could potentially offer tremendous value to students seeking higher education on a budget. Imagine getting a world-class education for free?

MITx Credentials will not bear the MIT name

It makes sense that MIT will administer this program as an extension of their school, thus bearing a different name.  According to the MITx common question page,  “online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but any such credential would not be issued under the name MIT. Rather, MIT plans to create a not-for-profit body within the Institute that will offer certification for online learners of MIT coursework. That body will carry a distinct name to avoid confusion.”  This makes good sense, and it appears to be well thought out.


  • Online education will continue to grow, with accredited courses and programs being offered by even the elite universities.
  • The open source Learning management platform  (LMS) offered by MITx will influence availability, quality and price structure of learning management platforms. Competition will increase, benefiting educational institutions in general.
  • Higher Education institutions will need to examine their own models of online education offering.  Demonstrating value to the ‘customer’ will be a requirement for a successful education program in the near future.
  • Higher Education institutions that fail to provide a quality online product and show value, will be in jeopardy.
  • Students will become educated consumers and ‘shop’ for the best program to fit their needs at a price that doesn’t saddle them with huge debt.

I can’t wait to see the developments in Online Education for 2012! Hold on to your mice! 🙂

Source: MIT News, What is MITx?,,  Retrieved January 4, 2011

‘The World is Open’ – Book Review

I spent part of  Christmas break catching up on my reading –  The World is Open, by Dr. Curtis Bonk was a highlight. 480 pages later – I couldn’t wait to write the review to share with my readers (you know you’re pretty ‘into’ something when you devour a non-fiction book in three days).

“Anyone can learn anything from anyone at anytime” (Bonk, p 7). This opener captures the gist of the book succinctly. ‘So what’ you may ask?  You likely have heard the likes of this before, education is changing … etc. etc. … online learning, e-books, open source, etc., etc. etc.  But really, how will these new technologies effect higher education? When?  How does this effect educators like you and me?  I’m not sure about you, but I’m seeking answers to these questions. Though Bonk doesn’t respond directly, he does in his enthusiastic and energetic writing style describe and give real life examples of ten promising technological applications, systems and trends that are revolutionizing education, which is why I enjoyed the book to extent I did, it’s encouraging and enlightening at the same time.

Bonk describes the ten trends in a framework named WE-ALL-LEARN. I am not a big fan of  using mnemonics in this type of situation, however it does work. Below are the ten, and I’ve highlighted three in blue text that I feel have the most potential to impact Higher Education in a big way (though there are several within the ten). Below the list, I describe e-learning and blended learning (opener #2), concluding with what higher education institutions should seriously be thinking about ( in my opinion).

world is open cover

Ten Openers: WE-ALL-LEARN (Bonk, p 51)

  1. Web Searching in the World of E-books
  2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
  3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  4. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  5. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  6. Electronic Collaboration
  7. Alternate Reality Learning
  8. Real-time Mobility and Portability
  9. Networks and Personalized Learning

#2: E-Learning and Blended Learning

Though Bonk covers all aspects of e- learning in his chapter ‘E-Demand Around the Globe’,  Bonk’s statistics regarding online education (higher-ed) in for-profit schools, public  and private universities emphasize the growth and expansion of  online learning.  In fact many schools have taken the plunge and included online learning in long-term academic planning. In 2008 state leaders in Minnesota introduced a plan to offer 25% of college credit courses online by 2015 (Bonk, p 128). University of Illinois (UIS) is a trail blazer in offering Online programs beginning in 1997. UIS now offers 35% of its course credits online, with sixteen degree programs, four blended programs and master’s programs in several disciplines. These are only two examples of many.

Bottom line for Higher Education: “Online learning is now just an expected component of higher education services” (Bonk, p 128).  E-learning is not a trend but a reality. Colleges and universities, both public and private need to develop, if they have not already done so, a comprehensive strategy that embraces online learning, incorporating online credit courses and degree programs into the institution’s short and long-term academic plans.

I have other strong views about #4 and #6 from the list, but alas time has run out, I’ll save my musings on these for another post.  However, if interested check out, there are some interesting discussions. Also invaluable, are the listings of resources listed by chapter, under the tab FREE STUFF and  RESOURCES. Check it out.

Debbie 🙂


Bonk, C. J. (2009) The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.

Open, Easy and Amazing – OPEN CLASS: Is it ‘Just Right’?

Those of you familiar with Moodle, Blackboard, Desire2Learn etc. – a learning management platform (LMS) of some sort, will most likely agree that for whatever reason, it is not ‘quite right’ – too cumbersome – too expensive – too complicated – take your pick.  Voila, we now have (or soon will have) OPEN CLASS, Pearson’s new LMS, whose mantra is OPEN, EASY and AMAZING. During a recent Webinar hosted by Campus Technology, the design and marketing team of OPEN CLASS revealed the key features and uniqueness of this LMS platform that appears pretty darn … amazing. In fact, my first reaction was that OPEN CLASS is too good-to-be true – read on to see why.

The platform appears to have been thoughtfully and carefully developed resulting in a system that is user-friendly and interactive. Interactivity is accomplished by blending the best of social media tools with learning applications making the entire learning experience not just relevant but meaningful. Below is a screen shot of OPEN CLASS from the instructor’s perspective, displaying the courses she is teaching on the left, and the ‘people’ or students and colleagues on the right.

Open Class Screen Shot
Open Class Screen Shot: Instructor's view

It’s not merely Facebook or Google + with a bit of learning thrown in, though OPEN CLASS incorporates elements from each that will work beautifully for creating a robust and rich educational online environment. The platform inherently encourages students to collaborate, study, email, chat and share with professor or classmates with a single sign-on. Not to mention students can access their course content, syllabus, assignments and grade book all within OPEN CLASS’ attractive, user-friendly interface.

The mantra of OPEN CLASS is this: OPEN, EASY and AMAZING. Which is a genius marketing strategy, considering existing LMS platforms are anything but, and the simplicity of the message is ohh so attractive. I’ve summarize the three concepts below.

OPEN:  The system is currently in the Beta (test) phase, but anyone with access to Google Apps for Education can begin using it right now.  In mid 2012, Open Class will be OPEN to anyone, yes anyone.  The platform is Open because it seamlessly incorporates e-books  (which is why Pearson is behind this), though any publisher’s text books can be included.

EASY: Now here is what to get excited about …OPEN CLASS seems  intuitive, (a.k.a. easy), meaning instructors/designers can begin using the platform with minimal learning curve.  Instructors have access to user-friendly tools for grading, creating exams, and communicating either with individual students or the entire class. Accessing content and learning objects is apparently seamless, the system is designed to be able to access open source resources, online content, and allows instructors to communicate across institutions. On a personal note, if the grade book tool in OPEN CLASS actually is as easy and effective to use as it looks, I will do a jig on the spot – having pulled my hair out trying to decipher the complexities of the Moodle grade book for almost two years now. Below is an image of the Grade Book from the Instructor’s perspective.

Screen Shot Grade Book Instructor View: Open Class
Open Class Screen Shot Gradebook: Instructor's view

AMAZING: Best of all it is FREE. Yes you heard right – FREE.  This is why it seems too good-to-be true.  And there are no licensing costs, no software to download or maintain, or hosting costs. Yes amazing. You might wonder if there is a catch –  there is none according to Pearson. However you can see the brilliance behind Pearson’s strategy –  Pearson is a text-book publishing company, there is an increasing interest in e-books, interactive content, learning is going mobile and online, etc., etc.  Pearson is just putting themselves ahead of the game. Failure to adapt will make text-book companies obsolete in the near future, think of the recent demise of the book store in the United States, Borders.

I encourage you to go to the website if you want to learn more.  Many schools are in the test phase including Rice University, Arizona State, Columbia to name just a few. Of course you can also sign-up for OPEN CLASS with a Google Apps account, or in just a few short months OPEN CLASS will be open to all, easy as that! And yes, don’t forget Amazing. To find out more:

Keep Learning 🙂