Virtual Field Trips

I know that schools and institutions have been using virtual field trips for at least 20 years in some form or another. In New Jersey, all public and non-public K-12 schools and public libraries located within Verizon's territory could once use Access New Jersey (ANJ), an advanced telecommunications network.

While I was at NJIT, I helped create our first Internet2 Day in 2005 which offers high speed opportunities for virtual field trips and collaborations between research organizations and universities and even K-12 school through its K20 Initiative.

I recall in the 1990s and earlier using ITV (Instructional Television) to connect sites and use television programs for distance education. Many of these terms and services have fallen away. There is very little time devoted by public stations to ITV today. If it exists at all, it is part of a digital subchannel of a non-commercial educational public television station, or passed on to a local educational-access television channel run by cable TV organization. There are still some groups like the Agency for Instructional Technology and the Annenberg Foundation doing a kind of ITV, but most of this type of programming has moved to the Internet.

A virtual field trip today is likely to use something like Google+ Hangouts on Air to connect cultural institutions like museums, zoos and aquariums with schools and non-profits. Hangouts On Air allows institutions to share universal access to unique cultural and educational experiences regardless of geographical and financial restrictions.

Google offers two online forms to request a virtual field trip for a classroom or organization.

Classroom Form: and an Organization Form:

California and Credit and MOOCs

It was big news earlier in the year when a bill was proposed (and since was approved) in California that mandates statewide open online courses be approved for college and high school credit. That bill, SB 520, was often written up in articles as being a MOOC bill because it requires that these courses be open to all students who require them and cannot get access to them in their own schools. That last part is important. The bill is about access to courses and that was part of the original intent of MOOCs and earlier open courses that may not have been as massive in enrollment.

The California bill originally positioned 20 "MOOC-like" courses that would be credited by high schools and colleges across the state. This bill generated a lot of resistance from faculty who see it both as a threat to their jobs (bringing in "outside contractors") and as a lower quality of education.

It is important to note that the bill's focus is on students who are shut out of a high school or college classrooms due to a lack of space in that class. It is not about a student opting to take a MOOC version of English Composition rather than the one that is available on campus. The bill says that students must be allowed to take the same course in an online or non-classroom format when that is all that is available to them.

The question of whether or not those outside courses provide the same quality and standards as the accredited high school and college classes is a more controversial issue, and one that will be harder to address. That is an argument that has been active for decades in comparing face-to-face courses and their online counterparts. The short answer from research that I have heard many times is that thee is "no significant difference" between a well designed F2F class and a well designed online version. The California bill seems to assume parity but opponents don't accept that assumption.

The problem of there not being enough space in classrooms for students may not be as relevant in all states as it is in California, but I would predict that most states will have to deal with this issue of giving credit to MOOCs or other third-party online courses soon. Schools have had to deal with the issue in other cases already, such as transfer credits, summer courses and exchange programs.

Of course, college credits mean tuition money and no school wants to lose that whether they are labeled non-profit or for-profit. Some providers have been working with the American Council on Education"s (ACE) CREDIT program. ACE has been around since the mid-1970s and requires course providers who want their accreditation to submit substantial documentation about a course for review by a team of academics.

California may have taken the first step in this direction but it looks like other large state systems like New York and Florida may move in the same direction.

One thing that favors the direction this bill moves towards is that it is being viewed as another way to have students take classes they need and move towards completion (graduation) in a shorter time. That aspect is very important to the federal government and most state and even some county (for 2 year colleges) agencies.

In April 2013, the bill was amended based on the discussions and negotiations that followed the announcement. One change that emerged was that course approval would shift from the state (California Open Access Resources Council) to the local administration and faculty senates of the three systems (University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges). They have also removed the use of ACE recommendations.

There will certainly be more changes, but it is unlikely that the use of some form of the Massive Open Online Courses will simply go away if it is ignored.

SB520 Fact Sheet

Predictive Analytics in Education

Predictive analytics includes ways of using statistics, modeling and data mining in order to analyze current and historical facts in order to make predictions about future events.

It is something that has been used in business in order to identify risks as well as opportunities and improve decision making. Most references to it will be in the fields of actuarial science, marketing, financial services, insurance, telecommunications, travel, healthcare and others.

It got some press just recently as we discovered that the NSA was searching our online life and using predictive analytics to try to catch "the bad guys."

It is just starting to be used in any significant ways in in higher education. Some people see predictive analytics as a way to improve completion and student retention rates. There are now commercial systems and some schools are building their own ways to mine student data.

These systems might be looking at logins and usage patterns of student services, LMS activity, or content and digital textbook interactions. For example, using recruiting data to make predictions about future enrollments is something that has been done (perhaps without sophisticated software)  for the past decade. But using it for predicting retention of students is a much newer application.

One place you are more likely to find predictive analytics today is built into learning management systems. Desire2Learn is an LMS that I am reading about as they have introduced it into their product. They acquired Degree Compass earlier this year as a way to help teachers and also students and advisors make decisions. Desire2Learn calls their tool a "Student Success System" and, since student success is a big concern in colleges, it certainly will sound appealing to customers.

Through predictive analysis, data mined can help an instructor identify overall course risks and individual student progress or lack thereof. Some systems give data visualizations about student engagement in discussions, readings and assignments. If a course is built with valid learning outcomes and assessments for those outcomes, it can show what is working and what is not.

If there are multiple sections of a course and/or historical data on past instances, this can be a way of predicting program success and make necessary adjustments.

One of the desired uses of these analytics is to monitor at-risk students and allow interventions at the proper times.


QuickTip: Gmail Aliases

Although Gmail doesn't offer traditional email aliases, you can easily use a kind of alias (alternate) email with your existing account. This is useful for sorting and directing messages.

For example, let's say I own the email but I want to use it with students in one of my courses. I don't want that course-related mail mixed in with the rest of the messages, so I tell students to email me at (352 being the course number, but I could have added media or any other characters). I will receive those messages sent in my regular mail and then I will set up filters in Gmail to automatically direct these messages to a folder for the course. I could also apply a label or star them, skip the inbox, or forward them to another email account or any other options offered in Gmail. It's a nice way to stay organized. For a small business, you could use aliases for different inquiries by adding +info, +estimate, +billing or any useful label to customize the message.