The four big changes to online learning to watch in 2015 fall into two categories:
Changes in Current Educational Practices
- Adaptation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for credit; and
- Development of smarter online assessment.
Adoption of Technologies and Processes from Outside of Education
- Use of 3D printers; and
- Video glasses for supervision at a distance.
Big Change # 1 - Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for Credit
One challenge colleges and universities face is providing a sufficient range of elective courses that reflect the interests of the learners and the intended learning outcomes of their programs. MOOCs offer a possible source of elective courses, but they need to be integrated into the program and the learning must be assessed.
The process for integrating and assessing MOOCs can be:
- Students are provided with a list of MOOCs approved for study for a particular program. For example, for an environmental study, student is given a list of MOOCs related to that program, such as The Age of Sustainable Development (a 14 week course offered by Colombia through the MOOC platform provider Coursera that suggests 5-7 hours a week of work) or Foundations of Data Analysis (a 13-week course from the University of Texas Austin through edX, with 3-6 hours of week of work).
- Students sign up for the MOOC, which is free.
- Students must complete the MOOC and obtain a letter of completion.
- Students then sit a proctored examination based on the course and set by their home institution or submit a portfolio of work related to the course for prior learning credit assessment.
- Credit is awarded (or not) and appears on the student transcript.
In the United States, various strategies for assessing and offering credit were developed including:
- MOOCs from Coursera were recommended for credit by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service, with the expectation that students submit to an identity verification process before sitting a special proctored online exam held after the course ends. The student’s institution then has the option of granting credit.
- The University of the People, based in California, offers accredited undergraduate degrees in business and computer science for students using MOOCs. Tuition is free; students pay an examination fee.
- The Georgia Institute of Technology is offering a Masters degree in Computing Science using MOOCs, which will cost graduates about $7,000 compared to $45,000 for the same degree on campus.
- The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and the DSST Program allow students to gain college credit through examination-based assessments of knowledge gained outside the classroom. An extensive list of exam topics for CLEP and DSST is matched with MOOCs recommended as good content sources for exam preparations.
Big Change # 2 - Making Assessment Smarter
A key component of any faculty member’s workload is the provision of feedback to students which will, hopefully, aid their learning. What can be problematic is the time it takes to provide this feedback.
Online assessment and marking can help with this dilemma, but until recently, it has been very onerous to develop questions for online test repositories, as well as designate each item in terms of the assessment rubric required for a course. But this is starting to get easier.
It is now the case that many online assessment programs, including commercially available programs like those available through learning management systems (LMS), such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn, offer easy-to-use modules for various types of testing. Textbook publishers offer standardized test banks that may be uploaded directly to the LMS or accessed directly from the publisher's dedicated website. More recently, standalone systems like ClassMarker have become available, which provide automated assessment and grading.
A free, open source assessment development tool, TAO, supports a host of test types ranging from simple multiple-choice items to complex, interactive problem-solving tasks. TAO can also be deployed on many levels, ranging from small-scale classroom assessment to large-scale achievement testing.
The use of adaptive learning and assessment, in which the software not only assesses skills and understanding, but also directs the learner to learning resources to improve their learning outcomes, is developing rapidly. Software now available includes Knewton, which has been integrated by many publishers to guide and assess students as they study, and Desire2Learn LeaP, which creates personalized learning paths and assessments using course content and openly available educational materials.
Big Change # 3 - 3D Printing
3D printers are poised to take on a substantial role in education through their capacity to create three-dimensional objects by depositing molten plastic or other materials in thin layers, building an object a single layer at a time. Using 3D printers, students can go beyond 2D visualization to creating physical objects for examination and application. The implications for active learning stress the movement from imagination to model and the solving of problems by actually constructing solutions.
In a pilot project in the Engineering Library at the University of Nevada, Reno, the 3D printer operated at or near capacity throughout the year, with 80% of the use by students, largely from Engineering and Science Faculties, but also art, business, and economics. On a cost recovery basis, the average cost to a user was $13.48 per printed piece.
An infographic suggests ten ways in which 3D printing can be used in post-secondary education, including artifacts, fossils, architectural models, topographic maps, art objects, organs for medical students, and creative gelatin molds by student chefs.
A number of institutions established Maker Spaces, where students have access to 3D printers as an established part of the curriculum. For example, students in Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Virginia, reproduce static drawings in CAD (computer-aided design), create the actual parts with 3D printers, then design and create a dynamic mechanism from scratch using these same innovative technologies. These new approaches allow those students newest to the field to more easily connect basic engineering concepts with their practical applications in real-world engineering.
Sites, such as 3D Printing Education Resources, offer free access to 3D printing project guides and models.
Big Change # 4 - Video and Smart Glasses
Higher education institutions in Australia are active in using video or point of view (POV) glasses, particularly in technical and vocational training. The glasses are fit with microcameras that capture live footage of an individual performing an activity. Students on work placements or working as apprentices can record their actions, with the professor viewing in real-time or playing back later. The technique can also be used for testing or for assessing skills for prior learning recognition in which students demonstrate previously acquired knowledge and abilities for course credit. The use of these glasses allows the student in the workplace to be widely separated from the professor – opening up international education possibilities. This video demonstrates their use at the Canberra Institute of Technology.
Google Glass, available only on a limited basis, offers educational potential through its mobility. A wearable technology attached to eyeglass frames, Google Glass replicates the capacities of a smartphone – messages, searching, access to Google and third party apps, navigation, videos and photos, social media, etc. Although Google Glass is a long way from finding a role in education, applications such as real-time language translation, simulations, recording and analyzing performances, classroom support and communication, and field trips have been suggested.