Thursday, March 20, 2014

Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs) vs. Traditional Colleges

By Sean Scarpiello

Within the past few years, Massive Open Online Classrooms (MOOCs) have become increasingly popular. And as companies such as Udacity and Coursera begin attracting many new students, colleges and other higher education institutions are beginning to worry. Schools like Harvard, MIT, and Stanford have already begun developing their own forms of web-based courses; however, the majority of higher education institutions have not yet developed these technologies in this quickly evolving market of education. As a result, many four year institutions fear that these changes may lower enrollment in upcoming years. Further, educators at these institutions are quickly trying to raise awareness on the importance of a traditional college learning experience.

As I prepare to graduate from a four year liberal arts institution, I cannot help but think back on my experiences. In retrospect, I find that there were many introductory classes where many students simply do not need the stereotypical college class to succeed. In these cases, I believe a well-designed MOOC could easily replace such classes. This is because much of the initial college courses taken by freshmen are for distribution as well as simply building a foundation of knowledge for success in upper level classes. In fact, much of the material being discussed in these classes has been widely known for decades- even centuries- and I doubt that many professors find teaching these intro courses intellectually stimulating. Therefore, a MOOC that is designed to require a lot of the basic class material to be learned and applied on exams would be beneficial to students. Also, a question and answer component to this MOOC, where students can ask professors questions regarding the material, would definitely benefit students.

Looking at more upper level classes, I still find that there are many areas where MOOCs could be used to substitute traditional college lectures, but there are also many subjects that cannot be successfully covered by MOOCs. This is especially true for the STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects where a lot of material is being updated day by day as our understanding of cutting edge science progresses. This, along with many open discussions, debates, and labs in other sorts of classes which allow students to engage each other in a traditional setting, enforce that colleges with a physical campus and classroom cannot be replaced. I have seen this firsthand in classes that discuss biochemistry, biophysics, ethics, philosophy, and political science . Open discussion in many social science courses improve class by adding debates and dialogue into class. My institution even requires students to complete a senior capstone experience where I have personally been able to collaborate with one of my professors on research that is largely unexplored. This type of education is vital and can only be achieved at a traditional college and not in an online format.

In light of all of this information, can an entire college education be provided by MOOCs? Absolutely. But if I was a business owner and a job candidate had an entirely web-based education, I would unquestionably deny them a job. MOOCs are fantastic at getting information from a textbook into a student’s head. MOOCs may even work well at enabling students to apply and incorporate information. However, MOOCs will always take second best to traditional style higher education where learning to work with other people and collaborations take priority. At college, students are always learning whether they are in the classroom or dining hall. Colleges help students learn to collaborate with their peers, work in a lab based setting, develop networking and people skills, learn to analyze and cultivate opinions, to critically think and much more. Therefore, when educators fear that a college education is no longer relevant, they do not need to worry.
Overall, MOOCs are becoming increasing effective at providing students with high quality, personalized educations, but MOOCs will fail to provide the human element of education. Further, only traditional style colleges will be able to improve a students’ ability to collaborate well with others, develop debate and discussion skills, and quickly analyze data as it is presented by others. In this regard, traditional style education is still relevant despite MOOCs improving abilities to provide low cost, individualized education to many students.

Monday, March 10, 2014

How to Avoid Snow Days with Technology

By Sean Scarpiello

This winter in the Middle Atlantic region of the United States, there has been a lot of snowy weather leading to many snow days for students. To combat the loss of class time, many educational institutions are implementing technology in novel ways to ensure that students continue to receive a high quality education. I recently read an article that described how the Hun School, a private K-12 school Princeton, New Jersey had prepared for a potential snow day this past Monday, March 3. As news reports predicted poor weather, the school’s administration set up a meeting online to discuss the logistics behind offering Monday’s classes in an entirely online format for students. Therefore, students can still attend class without being hindered by the weather.

To prepare for the potential school closing, teachers used the learning management system, Schoology, where teachers post assignments, images, links to website, and even tests, while also allowing a clear link of the communication between teachers and students. Further, Schoology also enables teachers to automatically grade tests and assignments in a way that allows students to track revisions and get instant feedback. Classes also planned to meet up at specific times online using Google Hangout, a textual and video chat-room free to use with a Google email account. With these sorts of educational technologies, teachers can continue to provide valuable education in the event of a school closing or delay.

In addition to the technologies being implemented at the Hun School, many other schools are using common technology in innovative ways to make up for snow days this winter. One example I have seen personally has been how one of my past organic chemistry professors has turned to YouTube to make up for lost class time. For students to be successful in a difficult course such as organic chemistry, it is imperative that students attend lecture and get direct instruction on actually applying the material. But as school closings and delays significantly reduce class time, our professor posts lectures on YouTube for students to watch outside of class. He additionally makes himself available for students to come and meet him during his office hours to answer questions. Also, students can even ask questions in the comment section which can be further discussed in class or answered directly by the professor on the YouTube page. Many students concur that these video lectures are a great way to supplement lecture material in light of lost class time.

These two cases serve as shining examples of how simple and well-known technology can be used in an innovative manner to improve education when increased school closings and delays take away valuable class time. In fact, I have been in classes where professors use these technologies to further supplement education and can attest to the great success that the additional help and material provided through these technologies can achieve. Therefore, teachers and professors who can provide technology-based learning in the face of decreased class time are bringing a higher quality education to more students at lower or no costs.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Study Smarter, Not Harder with StudyBlue

By: Sean Scarpiello

When it comes to studying, it is more important to study smart than it is to study hard. Many study methods, such as rewriting notes and rereading textbook chapters are often tedious, difficult, and ineffective study strategies. One educational website, called StudyBlue, is working to have students study smarter, not harder. StudyBlue is an online technology that allows students to choose from a database of pre-made flashcards or even create their own flashcards to study. Beyond the simple concept, StudyBlue offers even more benefits to improve learning and study strategies.

StudyBlue is available online on its website or even available as a free app in the iTunes Store and Android Market. This allows students to carry around classes’ worth of flashcards on their laptop, tablet, or smart phone. Further, StudyBlue has teamed up with EverNote, enabling students to link their accounts so students can organize all of their class material in a single, cohesive area. Best of all, the apps for both StudyBlue and ever note are completely free for students. StudyBlue works as a great study tool because studying with flashcards enables students to continuously think about material and keeping their minds active. Then, due to StudyBlue’s web based design, students can quiz themselves on the class material wherever there is an Internet connection.

Students are not the only ones who can benefit from such a technology; teachers can also make up their flashcards and share them with their class or the public. Teachers can even find pre-made sets of flashcards to share with their students. Already, there are thousands of flashcards already made in subjects such as math, English, biology, chemistry, music, vocabulary, history, and several languages. Plus, many college professors have already posted lists of flashcards for their students to use in specific classes. Many of these lists are available to anyone with a StudyBlue account for no cost. All through StudyBlue, teachers are able to track each student's progress and how well they perform on flashcard sets. This further helps teachers understand what areas they can review in class, as well as the material students are comfortable with. Teachers could even assign reviewing flashcards as a way to force the students to study and understand the material.

StudyBlue makes students’ lives easier when it comes to studying strategically for tests. By offering a number of free flashcards sets, students can log on practically anywhere quickly to begin studying smart for upcoming tests. Teachers jobs are also made easier as they can track student progress and understanding of class material in such a way that causes students to study. One of the best aspects of StudyBlue, as well as EverNote, is completely free for students with laptop, tablet, or smart phone. StudyBlue is definitely a useful educational technology as it brings a higher quality and personalized education to more students through the utilization of technology.