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Educational Design and Engagement

Educational Design and Engagement

Enriching the student learning experience & supporting development of on campus and online courses.

My-EDUCAUSE, Anaheim 2013

EDUCAUSE 2013 was again held in the Anaheim Conference Centre in southern California, which is an ideal location.

In order to get the most out of the conference I had deliberately chosen to target events that focused on these specific topics:

  • MOOCs
  • Adaptive Learning
  • Multi Media in Learning and Teaching
  • Learning Analytics
  • Learning space design

This blog intends to give readers a summary of presentation themes, key points and references, but is far from exhaustive. Further resources and recordings can be found via the EDUCAUSE website.


The opening day got off to a great start with an inspiring and humorous opening speech by Sir Ken Robinson (writer, speaker and educationalist). Sir Ken reflected on current global challenges, such as humanities sustainable living, societies mental well being, and the critical need for education to direct creative and original thinking in order to meet these challenges.

Roused by Sir Ken’s words I joined the mass of around 5,000 delegates in taking to the escalators of the conference centre in order to explore the conference exhibition hall. Cal Poly were doing roving video interviews with delegates.

The Supplier Exhibition Hall

The Supplier Exhibition Hall

A group from Stanford University were discussing the need for proactive dialogue with Schools to establish learning and teaching needs for technology. The discussion focused on the importance of having a communications plan for such dialogue that identified stakeholders, hidden stakeholders and prepared the benefits case, exemplars and evidence required to influence decision makers. The group recommended involving Schools in discussions with vendors and using competition and recognition to win engagement.

Session 1.1 Open Networks for Social and Connected Learning (video)

Having had chance to orientate myself with the exhibition hall, I left to attend the first scheduled presentation by Mimi Ito from University California, Irvine. Ito quoted William Gibson: “The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed”, and classified social networks as either friendship driven, or interest driven.

Ito focused attention on the value of interest driven networks, their diversity and the importance of Digital Story-Telling (Jim Groom She described connected learning as “where learners take their interest driven digital literacy back into careers and employment.” I noted here the similar connected learning value derived from involvement in MOOCs. Ito suggested that digital activity could be perceived as a distraction if it is not adequately connected back to something useful, referencing Rheingold’s book Net Smart as a useful resource for making wise digital choices. Ito suggested that as educationalists we need to guide and nurture great emerging ideas, and have mechanisms for spotting innovation. She also picked out Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to be a likely area for further integration and disruptive change, highlighting Open Badges as an opportunity for recognizing interest based learning.

Session 1.2 – Building for Global Collaboration (Transforming Learning Spaces)

Maya Georgieva from New York University (NYU) presented learning spaces in the context of a city campus where space is at a premium.

Georgieva described the importance of study abroad for their students, and need for connectivity of the campus with the city and wider global environment. Their learning landscape includes classrooms, remote sites, and virtual teaching spaces all designed around human interaction and user experience aiming for collaboration and flexibility.

Georgieva talked of the need for spaces to be flexible and future proof enough for BYOD and flipped classroom, yet bold and inspiring for creativity. She described the use of personas, stakeholder plans and prototypes, and videoed space usage, to better understand user needs. Their strategy focused on:

  • Building green (ecological)
  • Mobile/BYOD
  • Virtual space
  • Embracing disruptive

The results showed extensive use of glass to interconnect space, removal of podiums and embracing of pods and bold Steel Case furniture. Inbuilt technology was not considered as important provided users could connect to the network with their own device.

Lunchtime Poster Session

Between 1:30 and 2:30, the programme was dominated by a broad-ranging set of poster sessions. Some useful examples are embedded below, illustrating three primary topics of the conference, Flipped Classroom, MOOCs and Adaptive Learning.

poster exhibition

poster exhibition

Sources: Fordham University, Ohio State University, The University of Milwaukee, McGraw Hill University.

Session 1.3 – The Future of Video in Education

At this session, Sean Brown from Mediasite discussed some key themes for video in education:

  • Analytics
  • Reducing costs
  • Reliability and quality

Brown described Video in Education as ‘the killer app’ with a web backdrop of exponential growth in video uploads, constituting 51% of all Internet traffic, and as high definition now exceeds standard definition online video. Brown further described the on campus service delivery environment:

  • Centralised provision
  • Room control and automation
  • Designed within the learning space
  • Campus wide
  • Ubiquitous with events
  • Student authoring and sharing
  • DIY editing
  • Lifelong access
  • Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) consumption

Mediasite by Sonicfoundry supplies solutions for video capture, content management and delivery to users, and hence describe themselves as an Enterprise Video Platform. The content management capability enables review and approval with layered authorization for editing and publishing, but with some auto creation possible to help efficiency. Metadata and voice tagging enables detailed search and discovery. The system enables every second of video to become searchable so that it becomes a video knowledge library. Within the year, Mediasite aim to offer a cloud based service for storage and administration.

Later reflection, when talking to Prof. Phil Long from the University of Queensland, convinced me of the need to keep the teachers and pedagogy at the forefront rather than deliver lecture recording as an end in itself. Similarly, the usability of recordings and simple chaptering of content seems critical.

Session 1.4 – Predictive Analytics for Improving Student Success

The University of Maryland University College has been working with Civitas to develop individual student risk prediction. Their design offers 84% accuracy based on demographic data from day 1, from which point accuracy steeply improves.

Part of the UMUC agenda is to be able to better match student to courses, and following matriculation, research how and when students are most receptive to information about their behaviour and possible modification. They are tuning their research around:

  • Content of messages
  • From whom
  • Tone and empathy

A key to their analysis is knowing what students are doing themselves, and taking a holistic approach (termed ‘Student Success Science’) in planning communications and intervention. UMUC are also involved in measuring the response they get to message sent, and to be able to comment on specific faculty (staff). Their approach is iterative and contextual.

UMUC hope that students who feel that they have benefited will then actively contribute through Peer Assisted Learning. They comment that the data modeling proved easier than the communications intervention, which needs to be research based. They hope to develop their ideas with HE community partners and within the MOOC context.

Day 2

The day got off to the usual US 8:00am start. On reflection Adaptive Learning and its intricacies is not best digested at such a time, but perhaps for the foolhardy!

Session 2.1 – RealizeIt

David Collery from RealizeIt talked about his company’s adaptive learning implementation at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) with 42,000 students. Key principles of the company ethos were:

  • Academic independence
  • Learning excellence
  • Content agnostic
  • Seamless LMS integration
  • Transformational outcomes

The implementation relied upon mapping of the knowledge space as a network of nodes, each with predictability yet potential for changing characteristics. Each student was given a personalised pathway through the network, based upon prior ability, appropriate content and continual data analysis.

The network and pathway both evolve with the student, to develop into an online lifelong learning journey.

The CEC implementation developed 54 learning maps for specific subjects and learning outcomes, recording nearly 400K practice and revision lessons completed. The outputs tells teaching staff and tutors:

  • Areas where students are struggling
  • Who needs support
  • Who needs more challenges

Data is then synchronised with the LMS gradebook for one or multiple courses.

Session 2.2: MOOC Constituent Group Discussion

This was one of those sessions that took a while to get going, and for particular topics and sub-groups to form. Participants discussed current MOOC challenges that were perceived:

  • Difficulty in identifying personal contribution within the MOOC space, and implications for Adaptive Learning (ALEX)
  • Difficulty of content and video curation
  • Challenges and suggestions in developing communities of practice within the MOOC context were shared:
    • Shindig was mentioned as a company trying to scale up 50K people in a chat room.
    • PeerWise also featured as a candidate for use in supporting a MOOC.
    • A question was posed regarding whether HE could learn from the experience of Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) and Community Network Games.
    • iPeer an open source product for peer review
    • Does Internet2 net+ provide any insight?
    • Can PulsePress (a theme based extension to WordPress) be used?

Keynote – Higher Education is a Massive Multiplayer Game

Back into the main presentation hall, Jane McGonical contrasted the 1 billion gamers who play at least an hour a day, with the $300 billion lost through disengaged workers. She described how engagement is lost as student’s progress through school.

She described games in contrast, as offering:

  • Creativity
  • Contentment
  • Awe and wonder
  • Excitement
  • Curiosity
  • Pride
  • Surprise
  • Love
  • Relief
  • Joy

McGonical went on to describe how game playing can activate natural chemicals in the brain (Oxytocin) and evoke a larger and more intense brain response. She hypothesized that games develop connectedness and resilience. Evoke was presented as an example of a distributed network of creativity, where gaming can change peoples’ sense of what is possible and give them a better sense of themselves. McGonical described a future where:

  • MOOCs blend with games
  • Discovery is increasingly important
  • Analytics blend with personal mentors
  • Problem based learning is increasingly authentic, collaborative and achievement visible.

Session 2.3: CourseSmart Evaluating the Impact of Educational Analytics

Purdue and CourseSmart panelists talked about Educational debt in the US being higher than car debt, and the need to not fail individuals who choose to take the education journey. Retention for the panel was presented as an ethical imperative that had been visibly welcomed by the student community. The dashboard that they had developed provided:

  • Data relating to eBook interaction
  • Hours online
  • Comparative data for individuals and groups
  • Online sessions per week

The student level view showed:

  • An engagement index
  • Sessions online and average length of sessions
  • Page views
  • Average pages per session
  • Highlights and bookmarks created

Panelists described students as “accepting of data sharing” with CourseSmart analytics acting as a trigger for conversations, and staff using data to model Return on Investment and scaffold personal tutoring.

Session 2.4: Adaptive Learning and effective integration within the classroom

Adam Newman in conjunction with the Gates Foundation outlined the importance they attribute to Adaptive Learning techniques. Newman offered his own organisation’s white paper ‘Learning to Adapt: Understanding the Adaptive Learning Supplier Landscape’ as a useful starting point.

Newman described the market as embryonic, but the hype to be at a peak. His future vision was one where institutions may not own the learning experience, and where learning activity is much more disaggregated.

Adaptive learning was put within the context of personalised learning, and associated with intelligent tutoring, machine learning, knowledge space theory, memory management and cognitive load theory. Adaptive learning tools can be used to support a range of pedagogic approaches including digital tutors, competency based support and analytics for continual lifelong learning.

Key recommendations were:

  • Institutions should have clear objectives in order to know which product and approaches best suit their needs.
  • Institutions need to think about the whole ecosystem and actors within it and how their participation can be refined.
  • Try to reach students who wouldn’t normally choose to use similar tools.
  • Consider how Adaptive tools might offer flexible curricular schedules.

Capella University is wholly online, but is moving away from one size fits all towards:

  • Better understanding of learner profiles, and profile based rather than rule based adaptation.
  • Using Adaptive-Learning tools (CogBooks) on a couple of courses.

Excelsior College use Cerego as an adaptive tool to help student outcomes generally. They find the tool’s best quality is its simple and intuitive interface.

Session 2.5: MOOCs, e-textbooks, tables, analytics, Oh My!

Rob Abel CIO from the IMS Global Learning Consortium talked about the pace of change in learning technology and the need for agility. “One innovation every six months will cause you to fall behind the curve”. The culture of education Abel asserts is one moving from Users to Choosers.

As Henry Ford had said “History is one damn thing after another”, so in order to manage the direction of travel a vision needs to be holistic, with technology connectedness. Abel explains that strategic connectedness needs to be partnered with a cultural shift to community sharing and ethics.

With this backdrop, the rate of growth in IMS certification has been steep. LTI connections are not brittle but interchangeable. “Best of breed” tools can be used in conjunction with central platforms, e.g.,

Session 2.6: MOOCulus – Turbocharging the MOOC

Tom Evans and Jim Fowler described their experience of implementing Adaptive Learning within a 15 week long MOOC context (

Their calculus course had proven very popular with 87,000 students on Calculus 1. For a short while they were number 1 on iTunesU.

Evans described their success to be viewed in the context of Presence, Platform and Partnerships.


  • Its about people and bringing them together
    • The tutor contributed about 100 posts a week on the forum
    • Videos all titled with questions…help student think about context/motivation
    • Uses auto-cutter (available on github/kisonecat) to cut out extraneous content.
    • Virtual reality objects and animations are incorporated into the videos.
    • Uses techniques to make content everyday and accessible, e.g. lots of little bits of paper, or by a pen and a human hand.


  • MOOCulus uses hidden Markov modeling of randomised questions.
  • Custom hints aim to make the platform adaptive, showing a progress bar to provide confidence of student development and understanding.
  • The hints allow the students to reflect and retry, working towards mastery.
  • Fowler comments that the setup and effort hasn’t necessarily made teaching cheaper, but more effective.


  • The data involved in MOOCulus is massive and complex, 10 person years condensed. This data helps refinement and improvement of the student experience.
    • Prior plotting
    • Trig derivatives
    • Related rates
    • Distributions
    • Kaplan Meier survival (Rate that students move on)
    • Ohio are planning a just-in-time tutoring system, as 95% of answers are correct when given within 140 seconds, indicating possible intervention if responses are slower.
    • Data has also stimulated research and discussion.
    • An NSF grant will deliver interactive textbooks that will be aligned to video and launched in March 2014.
    • Github has enabled version control, where a free 250-page calculus textbook is available to the course students.
    • MOOCulus was written using Rubyonrails, and sharing the code has also led to useful feedback.

Day 3

The final day of the conference was a half-day, with the conference closing at lunchtime. Nonetheless, the final day sessions were well attended and gave me food for thought, in particular with regard to TEL resourcing and the up-beat reports from Canvas uptake.

Session 3.1 ECAR Review

The key findings of the ECAR report were presented to a busy room. The report indicates a raft of benefits from delivering online courses:

  • Flexibility
  • Revitalised teaching
  • Enhanced Learning
  • Improved time to degree
  • Data collection and analytics

Public institutions are more likely to offer fully online courses, with large research institutions more likely to offer MOOCs (60% offering or planning to offer).

Reasons noted for not delivering online courses were:

  • Lack of leader interest
  • No student demand perceived
  • Lack of faculty interest or concern about quality
  • Insufficient resources
  • Lack of technology

Over 40% of institutions have a dedicated eLearning center, with mature institutions offering core eLearning centrally. However the report highlights severe under-staffing. The average institution needs a 124% increase in TEL resources to reach optimum.

Students are reported to want more gaming and simulations, yet this is the least provided service.

The priority of factors determining the selection of technology were:

  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Ease of use
  • Effectiveness
  • Contribution to learning objectives
  • Ease of integration
  • Cost
  • Specific features

E-Learning is considered disruptive, but largely in an incremental manner. Most faculties have little incentive for online teaching, hence the need to identify and secure faculty champions to promote online teaching. Employers are equally not yet convinced of the value of online courses.

Most institutions are using quality matters rubric or maturity models to stimulate discussion.

Session 3.2 Internet2 and Canvas

A panel of speakers presented their experiences of adopting Canvas as their primary VLE. These included the University of Washington, Brown University, University of Central Florida and University of Maryland.

Seven universities have contributed to develop Canvas, involving community testing, legal agreement, and financial economies in procurement. Canvas has been designed around a series of core principles:

  • Openness
  • Usability
  • Modern technology
  • Native cloud tools
  • Powerful simplicity
  • Mobile apps agnostic of device

Key features of Canvas were described as being:

  • Activity dashboard
  • Notifications
  • Rich content
  • Video recording
  • Speed grader
  • Drag and drop
  • LTI and APIs

A short demonstration of the tool illustrated how institutions can set different home pages depending on an individual’s role, together with notification preferences, and social media alerts. The speed grader enabled media comments and feedback to be added very easily for an individual or group.

Kelli Trosvig, CIO from the University of Washington (UW) presented her institution’s experience. This was their first big venture into cloud-based services, with around 100,000 users’ satisfaction at stake. Prior experience of running Blackboard and Moodle had presented a lack of unity and consistency for their students.

UW planned a pilot of Canvas for 140 courses. Students soon reported that they liked handing in assignments on the new VLE and found the workflow easier to manage. Student workers were employed to help with front line support and communications.

Over 90% of faculty preferred the new platform, and found innovation time to be more agile. The analytics component was described as fantastic, with data downloaded into splunk and used for dashboard presentation.

At Brown University Catherine Zabriskie, the Director of Academic Technology, also reported a move from Blackboard to Canvas. This was not Brown’s first major cloud service as they also use Google Mail, however their main drivers were around good pedagogy and student learning. Zabriskie commented on the ease of media integration, and that students overwhelmingly liked the new system. In 2011 they piloted 10 courses, increasing the number to 717 courses in 2013.

Brown’s experience was one of reduced overall cost and improved ease of use, and access for guests.

At the University of Central Florida, Joel Hartman explained that e-Learning was a key part of their growth strategy. With Net+ as an intermediary, they found contracts to be standardized, with discounting on a waterfall basis, security assurance, 24 x 7 support, no need for system patching and access via shibboleth. Hartman commented on the additional benefits of working within a community of institutions willing to collaborate, where LTI and API standards were valued.

Alison Robinson from the University of Maryland added to the positive picture, describing their selection of Canvas in 2011. Feature richness, and a depth of integration with products such as:

  • CourseSmart
  • Course Load
  • Tigrinya (Lecture Capture)
  • Echo (Lecture Capture)
  • Turnitin
  • Cranium
  • Khan Academy
  • My Open Math
  • Piazza
  • Adobe Connect
  • Prulu

Robinson commented on the good service performance, with Amazon hosting and support. Analytics is not currently open Source, but is free, with an Open Source policy in planning. The hosting is also classed as a safe haven so that UK institutions such as Sheffield and Birmingham (early adopters) can chose Canvas.

Session 3.3 IT Futures On Campus, Service Orientation at Case University

Case University described their focus towards service and portfolios, and a focus on consultancy, engagement and solutions. This sounded like familiar territory, coming from a user services part of our own institution.

Key strategic themes included:

  • Mapping business needs to services
  • Service design and usability
  • Cloud based services
  • Career progression and retention
  • Agility, “business at the speed of need”

Key tools for case were the use of six sigma, business analytics tools and development of a skills database.

The University of Michigan described a similarly familiar decentralized culture with a strong research focus and revenue streams that flowed through Faculty Deans. Michigan chose to adopt soft project principles to evolve their IT through shared infrastructure and local innovation. All services were audited to evidence any duplication. Shared services focused on:

  • End user computing
  • Networks
  • Storage
  • Security
  • Servers

New services were around Management Information, Relationship Management and Portfolio Management, with organisational structures based on the themes of plan, build, run and innovate.

End Note

Conference Closure

Conference Closure

I hope that readers find some useful information in my notes. I wanted to share them before too much time passed but recognize that they are more a descriptive record than deeper reflections at this stage. Nevertheless they provide a useful reference point for the Information Services Technology Enhanced Learning teams, and hopefully will stimulate some discussion.



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