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Penn State's Education Technology Ecosystem

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I finally put the finishing touches on Penn State's Education Technology Ecosystem report. This document will likely live on the "SITE Research" section of this website until we move the blog and research page over to departmental webspace later this year.  The first draft of the report (what I'm calling version .1) contains information on the usage of the Penn State Blog Platform and Wikispaces, our institutional Wiki install.  Check it out and let us know what you think.  Big thanks to co-authors Jimmy Xie and Cole Camplese for ideas and assistance with the analysis.  Also thanks to Brad and Hubing for the data dumps.  This project would not have been possible without collaboration between the Schreyer Institute, Education Technology Services and Emerging Technologies

One of the highlights of the report includes a cluster analysis of blog users, which returns three classifications:
  1. Comment dominant users
  2. Entry dominant users
  3. Infrequent users
When we dig a bit further, we find that, over time, the entry dominant users' GPA increases .06 GPA points from the time they start blogging, compared to .01 GPA for infrequent users and .02 GPA for comment dominant users.

The next minor update will add examples of faculty use of wikis and blogs.  The next major update will focus on the inclusion of iTunesU data.  Thanks to Brian in ETS for the recent export of iTunes data.  Once the semester calms down a bit, we'll be getting that data into a format to mash with the datawarehouse and see what we discover...

Institute Research

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We are in the process of moving this blog/website from personal PSU space over to departmental space, so I'll be toying around with the settings over the next week or so in prep for the migration.  In the meantime, we created a "SITE Research" page, available from the top navigation of this page.  I'm putting a lot of effort into finalizing a large report on Blog and Wiki use that will eventually be posted to the Research page, and we're also working on what we are tentatively calling 'Research Starter Kits', basic packets of information for our Teaching Support Grant recipients to hopefully jumpstart the research process around specific topics.  Anyone think of a better name or acronym instead of Research Starter Kits?

Learning Design Summer Camp 2010 slides

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The presentation slides from the Learning Design Summer Camp are now available in PDF format. I'm working on the first draft of the actual report and I'll be posting a link in the next few weeks where people can go do download that document. 

Some really good questions and ideas were discussed during the session. Many folks were interested in the number of blogs and wikis that are being used for educational vs. other purposes.  Unfortunately, that's not something we can determine from the quantitative data; that will take a good chunk of time for someone to determine a random sample then go out and visit each URL to classify the usage of each space.  We are hoping to get to that, but it won't be any time in the near future. 

A few notes of interest from the presentation:
  • When examining instructor use of both platforms, 'Professor', 'Associate Professor', and 'Assistant Professor' make up nearly 50% of all instructor usage of Wikispaces.  Those three categories of instructors make up ~25% of all instructor usage of Blogs @ PSU. One reason could be the flexibility of Wikispaces to be used for things like project management and research collaboration.  Another reason cited numerous times related to IP; it appears that faculty see Wikispaces as a much more secure space for their intellectual capital (but the Blogs @ PSU platform does allow individuals to create protected blog spaces).
  • When examining blogging characteristics and cumulative GPA of student bloggers, we see a significant difference between students that are infrequent users of the blog platform compared to those that tend to be entry-dominant users (creating several entries across several blogs, and staying active in the blog platform). When we examine pure means of these groups, the infrequent users experience a .01 increase in GPA from the time they first entered the blog platform to their most recent activity, where entry-dominant bloggers experience a .06 increase in GPA.
  • Both these platforms can play an interesting role in elearning at PSU.  Some folks are using Wikispaces as an elearning platform, which is an interesting idea if faculty do not have a design team to help launch an elearning course.  Biology 110 appears to be fully built-out in Wikispaces (PSU authentication required).  In terms of open courseware initiatives, faculty are creating some incredibly powerful online materials in both Wikispaces and Blogs @ PSU that Penn State needs to begin thinking about how these resources might be leveraged to enhance the breadth and depth of education across the system.
Please let me know if the PDF of the slides does not open properly.  For some reason I experienced troubles opening the file, but other colleagues indicate it works fine.

Learning Design Summer Camp 2010

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Tomorrow is the third annual Learning Design Summer Camp, bringing together designers, technologists, faculty and other interesting Penn Staters for a day of interesting discussion in the IST Cybertorium.  A few of us here in the Institute have been examining what we call "Penn State's Technology Ecosystem", specifically focusing on Undergraduate Education.  Tomorrow at 1:00, I'll be presenting in room 106 on our initial findings.

In a nutshell, we took data from two Penn State technology platforms: Wikispaces and Blogs@PSU.  This data was then combined with institutional data from Penn State's data warehouse.  Some of the questions I'll be exploring during the session tomorrow afternoon include:
  • What are the profiles of students that tend to use this technology?
  • What faculty are using these platforms? How are they using them?
  • Where are we, as a university, in terms of adoption?
  • What Colleges/Departments are already using these platforms in a pedagogically-sound way? (with examples)
  • What sort of impact are these platforms having on student performance?
After the presentation, I will put the finishing touches on a document outlining our initial findings and post a link here on where  you can download a copy of the report.  Already, we're seeing some very interesting trends with the use of both platforms across the university with a positive impact on student performance! 

Technology's impact on student learning

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I found an interesting article in the Chronicle today titled "Is Technology Making Your Students Stupid?", a short interview with Nicholas Carr, a Colorado writer.  Overall, it's an interesting read.  Carr has a psychology background, and comes at the topic from the school of thought that the brain is malleable and adaptable through life experiences, something often referred to as neuroplasticity.  Carr sites many observations regarding the use of technology in learning contexts, focusing primarily on studies and anecdotes that found things like multitasking and using laptops in classrooms hurts student learning.  One very interesting finding he mentions is the use of online archives for academic journals.  Carr points out that, in some instances, this is hurting academia, mostly research, as a whole.  The idea is that we, as researchers using online search to find journals, are increasingly led to the same citations based on popularity.

"...we become so dependent on search, and the results from searches are determined by popularity of one sort or another. And the risk of using search for online research is that everybody gets led in the same directions to a smaller number of citations which, as they become ever more popular, become the destination for more and more searches."

The article touches briefly on social media, where Carr simply wants to make sure educators aren't making assumptions that all social media is good for education.  This leads me to some numbers we've uncovered with our research into the use of blogs@PSU. We ran a cluster analysis on the the student blog data, which led to three distinct groups:
  • Infrequent users
  • Comment-dominant users
  • Entry-dominant users
When we begin to examine the GPA of these users, we see that infrequent users average a 3.21, comment-dominated users a 3.38, and entry-dominant users a 3.56.  Now, this isn't saying that blogs lead to better GPAs; rather the reverse.  People with high GPAs tend to post more entries in the blog space.  We took a smaller sample from this data, examining students using the blogs that were admitted to PSU in Fall 07. We then examined when these students began blogging, placed each student into one of the above 3 groups, and examined their GPA curve over time.  We haven't completed the analysis yet, but it does appear that entry-dominant users, from the time they start blogging, start to see positive gains to GPA. 

We're working on a report now that details some of this information as well as data on the use of PSU's wikispaces. Stay tuned for the release of the first draft towards the end of the summer.

Students and technology

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Cindy passed around a recent study conducted by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA).  They asked 200 students at the University of Maryland to go without any technology for 24 hours.  No cell phones, computers, television, iPod, and even radio or newspapers.  The study reports some very interesting comments from students, many focusing on the feeling of isolation, both from friends and also from sources of information related to news or current events. 

The question we are exploring deals with students as employees.  On one hand, some worry that this attachment to technology might hinder attention spans, multi-tasking and productivity.  On the other hand, the companies that successfully integrate both the technologies and the habits of those that use them into organizational workflows will be at a huge advantage and discover new efficiencies.  What do you think about the level of reliance on technology we see in today's student, and how will that transfer to a new employee?
Today Cole passed along a link to Georgetown's Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) group. I had never heard of CNDLS before, but after taking a look at their website it represents a great model for how teaching centers can embrace the changes to pedagogy technology may bring with a very research-centered approach.  I particularly liked the website, both from its visual appeal as well as the organization of information.  For instance, the project portfolio section.  This provides guests with a great snapshot of all the projects associated with CNDLS, and links to go deeper into specific project cases that might be of interest. 

One initiative I particularly like is "Teaching to the whole person".  This initiative sounds very similar to what we aim for here in the Schreyer Institute, but the final bullet caught me by surprise, "addressing the affective and emotional dimensions of student learning".  Unfortunately the CNDLS website doesn't unpack that statement or provide much more detail or meaning to this. How would you unpack it? 

FERPA vs. Facebook: Observations on student privacy

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A recent posting by a friend on Facebook examining Facebook's changing privacy policy from 2005 - present got me thinking about students and the various ways they are impacted, directly and indirectly, around privacy.

On the one hand, as university employees and people who work with student data, we must adhere to FERPA guidelines.  From Penn State's own FERPA FAQ:

"If you're a student, it's important for you to understand your rights under FERPA. If you're a parent, you'll need to understand how the law changes once your student enters a post-secondary institution. If you're an employee of Penn State with access to student education records, you're obligated to comply with FERPA and to protect those records according to the law."
What are education records you might ask?
  • Grades
  • Class lists
  • Student course schedules
  • Disciplinary records
  • Student financial records
  • Payroll records for employees who are employed as a direct result of their status as students
So this makes sense, right? As someone with access to massive amounts of student data, I certainly respect and adhere to the FERPA guidelines.

Moving on to Facebook, I find students really don't seem think about privacy.  When I taught IST 110, one of the first things my TA and I would do is go out and look for every single student on Facebook as well as run their name through Google. What we found, particularly on Facebook, is 70-80% of my students had publicly-open profiles.  This led to some very entertaining slide shows, where I would begin by pointing out cases of people losing jobs, wives, husbands, or even careers by what they post online, in the public.  Then I moved into images and quotes from my students that have publicly-open profiles. 

Some students played along, some students were embarrassed and some were irritated with me.  "How could Bart do this to me?!?!?!"   Easy, you have an open profile, ANYONE can do this to you. 

One of my course objectives dealt with building privacy awareness and helping my students identify and deal with privacy concerns. By the end of my 2-week social network module and the Facebook activity, nearly ALL of my students had private profiles, many choosing to create FB lists to manage who sees what information.  Objective achieved.

My question is this: How can we raise privacy awareness at the university level with undergraduate students?  Many seem oblivious to privacy concerns, choosing to post material on FB dealing with their own grades, classmates performance, disciplinary actions, and finally things that could cost them an internship or job opportunity.  Many students proclaim "That's not FAIR!", and to an extent I agree!  Unfortunately even if we agree the practice of employers withholding opportunities is unfair, it's reality. Just take a glimpse at all the social networking search services employers are using, like Spokeo.

Wikispaces utilization by instructors

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I spent some time this morning cutting up more wikispaces data, this time focusing on instructor (see some student data here).  This dataset is somewhat difficult to make sense of for a lot of reasons.  Many instructors teach at multiples campuses (had to deal with some duplicates). The biggest instructor demographic using wikispaces are graduate students...but the data doesn't discern course use vs. collaborative (or other) types of use.  Some data points:
  • Fall 2009 saw n=295 individuals with an 'instructor' classification in the data warehouse use wikispaces.
  • Of these instructors (n=295), 5 performed 100+ (this is not restricted to Fall 2009, this is lifetime edits).  Two of these 5 individuals have faculty appointments, but do not actively teach courses.
  • Of these instructors (n=295), 64 made AT LEAST one edit, 22 made 10+ edits.
  • Of these instructors (n=295), 261 originate from University Park.  The remainder are distributed somewhat evenly among remaining campuses.
  • Breakdown of users by academic appointment:

Wikispaces users by academic appointment type

You can see nearly 50% of the users are 1/2 time graduate assistants.  This makes things foggy, we can't be certain their use is related to teaching and learning.  The next slice represents 'instructor', followed by 'research associate',then by 'assistant professor'. 

INSIDE HIGHER ED April 26, 2010 Daily Update

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Interesting article:

Retention, From Beginning to End

In thinking about retention as discussed in the article referenced here as well as the alcohol issue going on at Penn State, I have to ask, even if it is politically incorrect: "Why do we not expect our students to be adults?" Why are we attempting to babysit them so much? Going to college is a luxury that one works to achieve. I am not saying that retention is something that we should ignore, or helping students understand the hazards of dangerous drinking is not our responsibility; support structures are essential to being a socially responsible entity. However, in the scope of resources available and given the expectations for students to navigate their independence and the workplace successfully, at some point they are going to have to learn to cope with failure, make sense out of high uncertainty, and go for challenges that take their "all" to achieve. To protect people from failure, from dealing with high uncertainty, and to not give them very challenging challenges is to keep them from developing to their fullest potential, IMHO.

So, what do you think would be a better use of extra money, if such were available: to (1) increase support structures for drinking, sex, retention, and student academic assistance [e.g., time management programs and studying skills sessions, etc.?], (2) to lower tuition costs?, (3) offer more fun recreation and leisure options?, or (4) other, or some combination of the former? 

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