Larry MacPhee: e-Learning


Click for Flagstaff, Arizona Forecast

AZ Time:

11.07.2017: Latest LMS Marketshare Numbers

LMS MarketShare 2017

LMS Marketshare Latest Numbers

Blackboard has a big problem. Neither the absorption of major players like WebCT and Angel has helped them grow, nor has the dubious patenting of the LMS and the threat of lawsuits against competitors scared people away from the alternatives. Nobody is moving to Blackboard. They are several years into a complete LMS overhaul, and the migration path from Blackboard Learn to Ultra is anything but clear. It would be foolish for anyone to migrate to Learn at this point, because they will need to migrate again shortly, and it would be risky to commit to Ultra while it remains so unfinished, when there are solid alternatives like D2L Brightspace and Canvas to choose from. Blackboard desperately needs a win, and I suspect they made a screaming deal with the University of Phoenix, which has also struggled in recent years. The best Blackboard can hope for is that there won't be new defections, that current customers will move to Ultra when the time comes, and that Ultra will be good enough to attract new customers. That's a tall order.

11.01.2017: Business Plan for a Quality Online Program

NAU is hiring a new online dean. It's job #603482 in the Faculty/Administrator listing at HR's site, in case you're interested in applying. And here's my point-by-point business plan for what the successful candidate will need to do if they want to get it right. I've been doing this kind of work for 15+ years, and I've seen all kinds of examples of how to do it not so well.

Priorities: It can be done Fast/Cheap/Good. Pick any two. Since it has to be good, the real choice is:

  • Start small and build slowly, or
  • Spend a lot, and grow rapidly

I’d recommend option A as the more likely to be successful, but either strategy can work.

  • Differentiation is the key!
    • Who’s the competition?
      • Community Colleges (cheaper)
      • Other State Schools
        • ASU (bigger)
        • U of A (more prestigious)
      • For Profits
        • U of Phoenix (in decline)
        • Capella
        • Strayer
        • Southern New Hampshire University
        • GCU
      • WGU (check the news)
      • What ever happened to ARU?
        • This needs to be revived so that students can more easily build a degree with a combination ASU, U of A and NAU course credits.
    • What are their weaknesses?
      • The For-Profits
        • Credibility issues
        • Generally poor quality courses
        • Low student success rates
        • Higher costs; Big student loan burden
      • The Public Institutions
        • Disorganized, all over the place online programs
        • Faculty who aren’t experienced online instructors
        • Expensive, low-quality “canned” content
        • Resistance to, and slow pace of change
  • How we can do better:
    • Better Courses
      • Existing Courses (but many need improvement!)
        • We already have hundreds of courses
        • We already have dozens of online programs
      • Standards for Design, Content, Delivery
        • Go Beyond QM: Cover All Three Elements of Quality
      • Play on Regional Strengths
        • Partnerships with Native American Colleges
        • Partnerships with Community Colleges
      • Build Specialty Programs
        • Be the Best at a Few Things, not bad at many
        • Build gradually, strategically, intentionally
      • Avoid expensive contracts with big publishers where possible
        • Canned content leads a race to the bottom
        • Use open courseware where possible
      • Support strategic development of original custom content
        • Develop selected “flagship” courses available nowhere else
          • Think Netflix and Amazon original content for example
        • We already have a handful of unique world class courses
        • No developing a course while teaching it
        • Course renewal and continuous improvement process
    • Better Instructors
      • Select for Online Teaching Experience
      • Provide Subject Area Mentor Instructors
      • Provide Training and Support in Online Pedagogy
      • Waive in-state hiring requirement
      • Required New Hire Orientation Training
      • Recruit Faculty with TPaCK (Technology, Pedagogy, and Content Knowledge)
      • Annual Peer Review of the course and the teaching
      • Excellence Awards
      • Incentives for larger (more profitable) classes
        • TAs, Reader-Graders
      • Adequate Compensation (stop the revolving door)
    • Better Faculty Support (e-Learning has these skills)
      • Experienced Technical Support People
      • Experienced Pedagogy People
      • Experienced Media Designers
      • 3-6 month new course development process
    • Better LMS and other tools
      • Drop Blackboard
        • Move to Canvas
      • Keep Kaltura
    • Better Credibility
      • Keep ProctorU
      • Adopt TurnItIn
      • Build and Staff Testing Centers
      • Promote Higher Order Thinking Skills
        • Allow collaboration
        • Allow the open web
        • Shift away from memorization
      • Build the reputation
        • We need to stick with it for at least 5 years!
        • We need to market ourselves like the non-profits
        • We need to improve the clarity of our offerings
    • Lower Operating Costs
      • Open Source Materials
      • Retention of Talent
      • Efficiency
      • Clear Focus
    • Better Student Support
      • Assistance with Financial Aid
      • Assistance with Course and Program Selection
      • Monitoring of Student Progress
        • Timely Intervention
      • Don’t worry about local students taking hybrid and online courses
        • Students will do what works for them
      • Flexibility
        • Personalized Learning
        • Variable Course length
        • Start times, End Times
        • Mastery is what matters most
      • Great Self-Service Options
      • Personal Attention
        • Service Desk

10.25.2017 No Significant Difference

In a meta-analysis of a dozen recent studies, a non-profit education research organization has concluded that there is no significant difference in student learning outcomes when comparing performance in face-to-face courses with hybrid and fully-online courses. Mode of delivery matters less than the quality of the individual course and its instructor. No surprise to me! This finding backs earlier work.

10.25.2017 LMS Switchers

If you're changing LMS this year, you're likely going to Canvas

Although the title of the e-Literate article says that Blackboard may be turning things around, the graph doesn't show it. If you're a school in the U.S. or Canada and you're changing LMS, odds are high that you're going to Canvas (61%) or D2L Brightspace (38%). Note that this graph does not represent current market share, but where the switchers are going. Still, it's a strong predictor of future market share, and it shows that Blackboard's in trouble. Blackboard's current goal seems to be to hold onto existing customers and stop the bleeding until their next-gen LMS, Ultra, is ready for prime time. That date has been slipping for some time however, and I'm pretty certain that if I had to switch LMSes today, I'd go to Canvas. I've been a fan since 2009. But the decision to switch is not an easy one. Changing LMSes is like moving to a new home in a new city in a different country. It's not to be undertaken lightly, because the move is difficult, time consuming, costly, and painful, even when the end result is a better system. So why isn't anyone moving to Blackboard? The answer is simple. You'd have to migrate twice. Once to the current system, and then to the new one. That would be nuts.

09.22.2017 Western Governors in Trouble with Feds

In case you missed it, Western Governors University has been audited by the Federal Department of Education and found not to be distinctly different from a correspondence school. If the finding is upheld, WGU could be forced to return $713 million in federal financial aid. This has serious implications for all schools involved in distance learning and personalized learning! But the Feds are right about one thing. An online course can and should be much more than a correspondence class.

10.13.2017 Update: "WGU is not off the hook."

11.02.2016 The way we assess students makes no sense.

Traditional testing forces students to cram, regurgitate, and forget.

Have you ever thought about why we test students the way we do? What do I mean? Well, we generally test students in isolation from each other. We generally disallow aids like notes, calculators, textbooks, cellphones. We ban the use of Google and Wikipedia. We set strict time limits and restrict you to your seat. We use a lot of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank, with perhaps a smattering of short essay. Someone is watching you constantly. Now, you may be thinking, "Of course. How else can we keep them from cheating? How else can we find out what they know? How else can we keep them from helping each other?" I would argue that those are the wrong questions. Sugata Mitra has an interesting TED talk, where he develops the idea that the present day education system remains much as it was designed by the British empire in the 18th century. At that time, what was needed were clerks and bookkeepers who could do math in their heads, and read and write without need of help, primarily to keep track of goods moved around the world in sailing ships. He argues convincingly that the education system isn't broken. It works remarkably well. It's just that it trains students to do things that there is little need for in the information age. Rather than testing for the ability to memorize and regurgitate without understanding, we need to redesign assessment around collaboration, persistence, synthesis, and creativity.

When we attempt to solve a problem at home or at work, what are the first things we do? Gather some background information. Consult an expert. Get some help. Brainstorm. Try more than one approach. Keep at it. None of these methods are allowed during a test, but this is the way we solve problems in the real world. Sure, we need to have the vocabulary. When I go to the hardware store, I need to be able to explain the problem so they can recommend the right tool. Yes, I need some basic understanding as a foundation. But why, in the 21st century, when all of the knowledge of humanity is a few clicks away, must I regurgitate memorized facts on an exam without any help? How often would I not have access to these resources in the real, everyday world? Perhaps if I'm lost in the woods, and my cell phone is out of juice, then I would need to solve a problem in isolation and without assistance. But that seems more like the exception than the rule. Cramming for a test, regurgitating a collection of memorized facts, and forgetting it all the next day is like being a bulimic. There is little educational value in consuming information that you can't retain, just as there is little nutritional value in eating food you don't keep down.

Most problems we face in the real world don't occur in an isolation chamber. They don't have someone hovering over you with a stopwatch. They don't require that all of the knowledge required to solve the problem is already in your head. They don't require you to stay seated, or to work alone. They don't present you with five distinct choices, only one of which is correct. They don't allow you only one attempt. That would be crazy. And yet, that's exactly how we test students, from elementary school all the way through college. Think about these questions for a bit. What kinds of students are successful at that kind of testing? How well does that reflect their future performance on the job? What skills do employers regularly ask for? When hiring someone, is it more important that they already know how to do the job, or that they are creative, persistent, able to learn, and able to work well with others? How well do we prepare students for the challeges they will face?

What are the skills we need to employ in modern day problem solving? Usually, they involve gaining an understanding of the problem, either by doing research or getting help from someone who knows more about the topic. Once we understand the problem, we develop one or more strategies to solve it, based on cost, time, effort, available resources. Often, the first solution is inelegant, but it might be good enough. "Fail small, fail often." is advice I've heard from many successful problem solvers. Don't be afraid to try things. Break the problem into pieces and solve each part separately. Creative solutions rarely come from aiming directly at the problem and going full speed ahead. But the key point here is that we learn to be creative by attacking problems not with a head full of facts, but a kit full of tools that can be used again and again. You may be thinking that I've got a point, but it's easier to grade answers right or wrong when we test facts, not opinions. However, it's actually not so hard to grade students a better way. You look at how they tackled the problem. It's the difference between awarding points only for the answer versus asking students to show their work and evaluating both the quality of the end product and the sophistication of their methods. Let them work in teams. Let them use any resources they can get their hands on. This is an approach to teaching and learning that actually prepares students for a job in the real world.

"But wait," you're saying. "If I assign group work, how can I tell who did what?" Yes, that can be tricky. We've all been assigned to a team where one person does almost nothing, and gets the same amount of credit as those who pulled most of the weight. That's a problem with the way the group members were evaluated. But guess who knows who did which parts of the job, and how well they did them? The members of the group. A very clever way to grade students is to have them evaluate their own performance and that of their fellow group members by secret ballot. Average out the peer grades and compare it to the grade they gave themselves. You'd be surprised how accurately this will match your own observations, and how well it reveals who did the work. Of course, you also assign the work an overall grade, so that if everyone agrees to give themselves higher grades than they deserve, there is a correction factor. This method may need to be employed more than once before students realize that their actions are accountable, so don't give up after just one try. You will find that it becomes even more effective as time goes on.

There is another thing you can try when assigning group work, if you're still having challenges. Identify the different kinds of work necessary to put together the final project. For example, in a lab experiment, one person is the group manager, whose job is to lead, organize, plan, make decisions and settle disputes. Another is the experimenter, the hands-on person, who must be good at understanding and following instructions. A third is the data collector, who might also be in charge of creating graphs and charts. A fourth is the analyst and writer of the report. A fifth is the presenter. These are somewhat arbitrary divisions of responsibility, but you get the idea. When you assign duties within the group, people sort themselves into the kind of work they like to do. Students who hate to get up in front of others and talk might be excellent writers. Students who like to present might not want to get their hands dirty, or be good at following detailed instructions. That's ok. Everybody can make a contribution. And, if someone really wants to work alone, let them. As long as they understand they have to do the same amount of work as a whole group would, that's fine. That's how the world works.

09.21.2016: The Classroom of the 21st Century

09.06.2016: College is for Everyone?!

08.16.2016: Adaptive Courseware: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

11.08.2015: The Coming Disruption of Academia

09.08.2015: 21st Century Learning

02.28.2015: Why College is Like a Gym Membership

11.27.2014: Pick Any Two

06.24.2013: The Technology Adoption Curve

06.17.2013: Time to change my password? Oh, just shoot me now!

03.27.2013: Technology is the answer. What was the question?

03.06.2013: After bad stuff happens :-(

02.28.2013: Latest Reports from the LMS Battleground

10.10.2012 The wave of change that's about to hit higher education

04.03.2012 Blackboard Embraces Open a Boa constrictor

04.01.2012 What Google and Facebook have in common

03.25.2012 Message to the eContent providers

03.20.2012 Textbooks of the Near Future.

01.06.2012 Are we putting the cart before the horse?

01.03.2012 Unintended Consequences.

10.17.2011 Quality Matters?

09.29.2011 The "do-over" mentality in undergraduate education

12.12.2010 Why going "TSA" on web classes just won't work

06.14.2010 What Google should do next

06.11.2010 Why NAU's Mobile Computing Policy needs rethinking

05.05.2010 College is for Everyone, so Attendance is Mandatory!

04.20.2010 LMS Decisions

04.12.2010 The Hacker-Hipster Manifesto

02.19.2010 What is up with Google lately?

01.22.2010 Preparing for Snow Days, Epidemics, and Other Disasters

01.04.2010 Clickers: Treating the symptoms or the disease?

12.20.2009 Spreading the FUD

10.14.2009 NAU adopts MS Exchange; increase in productivity negligible

10.02.2009 How to get attention in Academia

10.01.2009 Universal Design

09.30.2009 Should NAU site license the MacOS as well as Windows?

09.01.2009 Marketshare change among LMSes over time

05.26.2009 Mac Growth in Higher Ed

05.21.2009 Microsoft on the move?

04.15.2009 Free and Open Source Software in the Enterprise

Why Computing Monopolies are Bad

How fast is your network connection?

Data Visualization

Mossberg puts his finger on it, and his foot in it.

Why can't Microsoft get it right?

The truth about telecommuting

Blackboard's Scholar

Learning Spaces

Podcasting with iTunesU

Gaming on Campus