Monday, September 30, 2013

How We Can Improve Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs)

By Sean Scarpiello

After reviewing some recently published news articles on the success of Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs), I was a bit shocked to see that there were not many fans of this technology in the academic community. Last year, many colleges made agreements with companies such as Udacity and began to give academic credit to students upon completion of many courses taken through MOOCs. However, many colleges and universities found that their students did not do well in these types of classes. In fact, one school had prematurely ended a MOOC pilot program after only two semesters with the program in place. This is because they found that half of the students who pass traditional classes ended up failing a MOOC class. So, is it that we need to go back to the drawing board and redesign MOOCs, or do we need to do something else to fix this problem?

When looking into the first MOOCs that existed, Sebastian Thurun’s Artificial Intelligence MOOC, we see that overall, a huge amount people, around 160,000 students, took the course. Of these 160,000 students, only 23,000 passed the class. This is not a very good number considering less than 15% of students graduated the course. However, it is important to remember that not one student paid for their spot in the class. Furthermore, it is difficult to estimate how many students really “took” the class by actively completing assignments, taking tests, and watching the lectures. Overall, we must consider that since students were not paying out of pocket for the MOOC they were enrolled in, we cannot expect them to have taken the course seriously. When looking back at how traditional types of classes have a much higher success rate than the MOOCs, it is important to remember that there is a price tag placed on each class. Personally, I make every attempt to attend each one of my college level classes, because when I break down the number of hours of class time over the cost of tuition, each class costs about $40 to $60, which is a lot of money that many students will not want to waste. Beyond this, MOOCs place students in a difficult position. MOOCs rely on students to take the initiative to sit down and complete classwork. In traditional schooling and in a lot of college classrooms, professors, teachers, and teaching assistants hound students for work on strict due dates. Therefore, if students want to save the money that comes along with MOOCs, they are really going to need to take some of their own initiative to sit down and work on classwork. Otherwise, it would probably be better for students who struggle at focusing to go ahead and pay to sit through formal classes.

In light of this, I do not think that MOOCs are 100% perfect and faultless in these cases. The colleges offering trial programs with MOOCs must have still had reasons to cancel these technology based classrooms. MOOCs are often criticized for being very heavy on the memorization and regurgitation of topics. This often means that many students do not learn much because they simply memorize the material for the test, and then later forget about it. Additionally, MOOCs lack collaboration and application of class material. This is a difficult task for MOOCs to include into their curriculum due to the online nature of MOOCs. However, professors teaching MOOCs could easily include pages of extra practice problems where students can apply the materials they are learning in class. The last major criticism of MOOCs is that they allow for little feedback. This can definitely hold true, but again there is an easy fix for this problem. The instructors of MOOCs could work with program designers to include question-answer modules with the professor or teaching assistant, as well as include open forum where classmates can discuss their individual issues in the class. Here, students will be able to voice their concerns with their professors and classmates, and the professor can then act to clarify certain areas in the material and answer questions that many students are asking.

In all, while there has been a lot of criticism coming from the academic community on MOOCs, it is important to remember a few things. MOOCs will take some time to get used to and many students will need to change their study habits or otherwise pay to take traditional types of classes. Also, MOOC designers can do their part by making the MOOCs as similar to traditional classrooms as possible by including places for interaction to occur among classmates and professors. MOOCs have the potential to completely revolutionize the field of education by bringing education to the masses through technology at low costs. Therefore, it is important to not give up on MOOCs until we change the way we think about them and change their designs to become more individualized and student friendly.


Friday, September 20, 2013

The Benefits of Sapling Learning Technologies in Science Class

By Sean Scarpiello

Earlier this year, when I was buying my books for college, I had noticed that on my required textbook list I would need to also purchase a “Sapling Pass” for my Biochemistry class. Unaware what this “Sapling Pass” was, I saw that it was required for the course, so I went ahead and paid $30 for it. During the first few days of Biochemistry, my professor brought up that this “Sapling Pass” is required and that we all need to buy one of these “Sapling Passes” to log on to our class’s Sapling page online. After receiving my books for the semester, I found my “Sapling Pass” as a small card with a code on it. I followed the teacher’s directions by going online and entering the code to gain access to our Biochemistry’s Sapling site, and I was amazed.

Sapling Learning is an online education program designed for high school and higher education level classes. I have only seen my Biochemistry site in detail, but there are also options available for other science classes such as Analytical Chemistry, Physics, Organic Chemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, and more. On this site, my professor assigns weekly homework assignments where we log on to the Sapling Learning site, enter our usernames and passwords, and then simply click on a module to go to the problem set. These problem sets are unlike many other types of assignments available online. In these modules, we are required to mix certain chemicals, run titrations, analyze graphs, and evaluate data. Plus, there are even interactive problems where we must make up the proper molecule using the Sapling Learning software. These problem sets are extremely interactive for students and also challenge students to apply multiple concepts at once. Students can receive instant feedback and even tips while answering questions. Teachers may optionally choose to give students second or third guesses on graded assignments right after they receive tips on what they did wrong. This program goes beyond simply quizzing and grading students by further challenging students and forcing them to learn the proper mindset and problem solving strategies for science.

The program is also fantastic from the teacher's perspective. The program comes pre-loaded with a lot of different types of questions that teachers can choose to assign to students. Plus, the program tracks everything their students do on the site. This includes times their students are logged on, the amount of time spent on different problems, and which questions were answered correctly and incorrectly. Teachers can look up class statistics to see what percentage of students answered questions correctly and incorrectly. My professor looked at this data for a past problem set and reviewed certain material in class because the majority of us got specific problems wrong. Teachers also have the ability to change up the questions in such a way that every student gets slightly different answers. My professor does this so she can keep track of everyone individually and no pairs of students could work together, thereby masking the weakness of one of the partners. Beyond this, teachers can assign ungraded questions, as well as put time limits and due dates for assignments on the program.

Sapling Learning programs are great in that they can be done easily on the computer with any internet connection. This means homework can be completed anywhere at any time through the internet. One other benefit to Sapling is that it comes at a low $30 price for students. Furthermore, the site offers an eBook of the professors chosen textbook for 30 days completely free. The program also gives students the option of buying the eBook through the Sapling site to use on problems sets and for studying.

Overall, Sapling Learning is a fantastic program for high school and college level science classes. It makes the student’s role in learning more interactive, while allowing teachers to be more efficient and more aware of individual problems in class. Finally, the program is also available at a low cost while integrating technology into the learning process of student.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

How DreamBox is Revolutionizing Elementary Math Class

By Sean Scarpiello

As education is quickly being taken over by different technologies, it is often easy for teachers to hand students a computer or tablet and assign work. This holds especially true in subjects such as math, where students who complete more problems and get more experience achieve more. These days, there are many different interactive games and software for students, which are fantastic when it comes to making math fun. However, while some students excel with this type of independent learning, others have a difficult time with these assignments. When designing technology for the classroom, many program designers forget that every student is different in the ways in which they think and learn. Therefore, while some students are zipping through their math assignments on their tablets, others may be struggling. A program called DreamBox, aims at eliminating this sort of one-size-fits-all math education while offering a more individualized instruction for students.

For many teachers, one big problem in math class is keeping students who are advanced in math challenged, while setting a pace in which slower students can still keep up. DreamBox is an online learning program where students can log on and complete a set of interactive math assignments at their own pace, whether that be fast or slow. With this program, teachers can keep an eye on each student individually by tracking the amount of questions answered correctly and monitoring the amount of time each student spends on each question. The program also utilizes adaptive learning, which challenges students at whatever level they are at. The feedback that DreamBox gives teachers goes a long way in diagnosing students’ problem areas. Teachers can then give more private and individualized instruction for students who may be struggling. DreamBox helps teachers solve one of the biggest problems when teaching math, while challenging students at all levels.

DreamBox is also designed to be used by students anywhere. For schools that subscribe to DreamBox’s service, students and teachers have 24 hour access to over 1,000 lessons. This allows teachers to the ability to assign DreamBox assignments in class, directly after material is taught, or as homework to reinforce what was taught in class. All students need to do their homework is their family computer or tablet with an internet connection. Beyond this, DreamBox is also affordable at $25 per student per year, or $7,000 for an unlimited amount of students per year. Since DreamBox offers lessons based on the curricula of each grade in elementary school, an elementary school with a large number of students can get a lot of bang for their buck. This especially holds true because the program does not require outside textbooks for students.

Overall, DreamBox is quickly revolutionizing the way elementary math education is being taught. By providing a highly individualized and challenging math instruction, teachers can keep an eye on each of their students. This further allows teachers to give special instruction to those who are struggling, while keeping the more advanced students stimulated. This also allows teachers to recognize trends among the class so they can review topics that many in the class are struggling with. In all, DreamBox does a fantastic job at utilizing technology to bring a highly individualized elementary math education to students at low costs.


Monday, September 2, 2013

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