Friday, July 09, 2010

Assorted News From the Web-Education Frontline

By John Glaser

First, Inside Higher Ed reports:
Blackboard announced on Wednesday it is buying out two software companies in an effort to bolster its real-time collaboration features and satisfy a generation of professors and students increasingly shaped by social media.

The company, infamous to some in higher education for its habit of swallowing up smaller fish, said it is buying Wimba and Elluminate, top providers of software that lets students work together online, for a total of $116 million.

The newly acquired companies will become Blackboard Collaborate: a new platform in the Blackboard family devoted to “synchronous” learning — interactions that occur in real time, rather than at the convenience of each participant.

...At a time when consumer media has shifted toward a blending of asynchronous and synchronous features -- think of Facebook and Gmail with their popular chat features -- Blackboard is trying to get on board with social media and the communication habits it is shaping, Henderson said. And from a pedagogical standpoint, “There is significant academic research that says student collaboration, peer tutoring, group work prepare students better … for the real world than traditional assignments,” he said. The demand for technology that facilitates such interactions, Henderson added in a blog post, is likely permanent.
This is great news. Although it is happening all the time, often without explicit appreciation of what it is and what it means, technological innovations and new models of web-learning frameworks are important steps in the right direction for schooling. Innovators, entrepreneurs, and businesses like Blackboard are constantly coming up with new ways for people - students especially - to operate in our increasingly digital learning environments, and this news speaks to one of the main criticisms people have had of digital, web-based learning environments...that it subtracts from the important interactive aspect of learning. We should keep in mind, this is only just the beginning.

Also, here's some interesting news from Stanford University:
The periodical shelves at Stanford University’s Engineering Library are nearly bare. Library chief Helen Josephine says that in the past five years, most engineering periodicals have been moved online, making their print versions pretty obsolete — and books aren't doing much better.

According to Josephine, students can now browse those periodicals from their laptops or mobile devices.

For years, students have had to search through volume after volume of books before finding the right formula — but no more. Josephine says that "with books being digitized and available through full text search capabilities, they can find that formula quite easily."

The new library is set to open in August with 10,000 engineering books on the shelves — a decrease of more than 85 percent from the old library. Stanford library director Michael Keller says the librarians determined which books to keep on the shelf by looking at how frequently a book was checked out. They found that the vast majority of the collection hadn't been taken off the shelf in five years.

Keller expects that, eventually, there won't be any books on the shelves at all.

"As the world turns more and more, the items that appeared in physical form in previous decades and centuries are appearing in digital form," he says.

Given the nature of engineering, that actually comes in handy. Engineering uses some basic formulas but is generally a rapidly changing field — particularly in specialties such as software and bioengineering. Traditional textbooks have rarely been able to keep up.

Jim Plummer, dean of Stanford's School of Engineering, says that's why his faculty is increasingly using e-books. "It allows our faculty to change examples," he says," to put in new homework problems ... and lectures and things like that in almost a real-time way."
This kind of news is indicative of the path we've been on, and where we're still headed. Published academic materials are increasingly in digital formats and available in searchable forms online. There is resistance out there, I'm sure, but it is notable when these leaps of progress are made, facilitating the efficiency and productivity of this developing educational realm.

Lastly, from the Open Culture Blog, news of more intellectual and academic information being made available to everyone, for free, online:
Throughout the past year, Stanford’s School of Medicine and Stanford Continuing Studies (my day job) teamed up to offer The Stanford Mini Med School. Featuring more than thirty distinguished faculty, scientists, and physicians, this yearlong series of courses (three in total) offered students a dynamic introduction to the world of human biology, health and disease, and the groundbreaking changes taking place in medical research and health care. Now you can watch these lectures for free. The fall and winter lectures (20 lectures in total) are completely available online. And the spring lectures are getting rolled out starting this week. You can access the full lectures series in multiple formats below:

Fall 2009, The Dynamics of Human Health - iTunesYouTube - Web Site
Winter 2009, Human Health and the Frontiers of Science - iTunesYouTube - Web Site
Spring 2010, Transforming Our Understanding of Human Health and Disease - iTunes - Web Site

The entire series also appears in our collection of Free Online Courses.
Behold, the magic of the internet. The Open Culture site itself offers, hundreds of free e-books and audio books, hundreds of free video lectures from professors from some of the most prestigious universities in the country, language courses, music, art, etc. Similar initiatives include MIT's open courseware (which over 60 million people have taken full advantage of), where almost 2,000 university courses are made available, Academic Earth, Virtual Professor, iTunesU, YouTube EDU, on and on. And more is happening all the time!

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