Thursday, October 3, 2013

Not So Recommended Videos

The availability of good quality videos for classes on YouTube is on the rise. Unfortunately, at the end of the video a panel of recommended videos pops up and sometimes it can be outright embarrassing.

This was the gist of a recent Chronicle article showing some tips on removing these recommended videos from your embedded YouTube videos. I won't reblog their post here but suffice to say there is a checkmark option when you elect to embed the video in a website or LMS course site.

CC BY jbj via Flickr
This embedding technique works great on your course website and it will work when you use the HTML embedding technique in Blackboard (our current LMS). However, in Blackboard there is a little option in the Build Content >> YouTube Video process.

As you know, the ability to search, preview, and select videos from YouTube is built directly into our Blackboard LMS. You probably also recall that in Service Pack 12 the search feature needs a little tweaking. Well, when you've selected your video there is an option you check to turn those off.

Once you've selected your video and added the objectives for students related to this video (Remember: I like to use questions with learning objects like this so students know what they should be looking for and remembering) you scroll down to the next options box. Here I make sure that YouTube URL will be shown (good for citing and direct clicking when viewing issues occur). The next option, Show YouTube Information is what controls those recommended or related videos. So, set this option to No.

The rest of the settings are up to you.

Now we can all proceed including vetted and educational content from YouTube without the anxiety of a possibly embarrassing, not-so-recommended, video being shown to students.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Importance of Critical Thinking in Online Education Press

via XKCD
I've been sitting at my desk debating whether to offer a contribution to a comment section of a Chronicle article or not. My wife has strict guidelines that I am not to read the comments for fear that I will be swept away in an amygdala hijack. I admit that I read the comments of the article in question but only in hopes of someone else pointing out the obvious flaws in both the journalism and the source study the journalism is based upon. Alas, what I found was bandwagons of online education naysayers rallying their fight songs. I was disheartened at the tone, tenor, and discourse of angry luddites admonishing their favorite foe - distance education. So, rather than comment, I thought I'd find some solace in responding through my own blog and perhaps giving some encouragement to critical thinking and reasoning.

First, for your review, the articles in questions.

Now that you've read them both, perhaps you can follow along with some cursory critique of the research being touted all over 2 of my Chronicle email lists. I'm only going to look at a few glaring problems that debunk this entire study and the article that followed.

Sample Size

If you were to go to the article and read it without reading the study you should find two glaring problems. First is the population size. The article (and study report) discuss the population surveyed.
  • 200 Community College Students as reported by the Chronicle and 215 reported by the researchers
  • More than 600 Employers as reported by the Chronicle and 656 reported by the researchers.
I really have two issues here. First (I guess 1A) is that literary license is taken for the sake of making the article more palatable but the imprecision is lazy and leads the reader to think there is more weight behind the report than is real. Second (1B) is aimed at the study itself. The sample is minute and certainly not indicative of either employers or community college students. Let's do the math.


  • 215 Community College Students equates to 0.0027% of the Community College enrollment reported in early 2013 and 0.0028% of 2012 according to a March 2013 IBISWorld Industry Report (61121 - Community Colleges in the US). This can't be confused with a representative sample, nor does the report describe how the sample might be extrapolated to be indicative of the whole Community College Student population.
  • The pool came from one community college. The same IBISWorld report calculates the number of institutions at 1738 making the institutional pool 0.058% of the entire industry. Again, hardly representative
I have a question about the student population too. 
  • What ages, majors, progress toward degree, and GPAs describe the students surveyed?


  • 656 employers in 4 MSAs with over 50 employees is hardly a representative sampling. A precise percentage of the whole is difficult to provide without extensive calculations but we can more likely assume that in some 900 industry sectors, with a national employment of over 136 million employees, according to BLS, is not an encompassing or representative sample.
  • The 4 MSAs are spread through the West Coast, Southwest, Northeast, and Northern Midwest. This not only leaves out two areas of the country it is also 1.05% of the MSAs in the United States (381).
We also don't know much about the sample. Here are the questions that should be asked in addition to sample size and representative sample above.
  • What industries describe the employers surveyed?
  • What disciplines were needed by the employers (medical, engineering, etc)?


The article and study also show some clear bias. Winston begins the report citing the for-profits and MOOCs both of which have been on the negative side of the news recently. She goes so far as to name the largest for-profit, University of Phoenix, just to make certain appeal to emotion fallacy sets in firmly. Full disclosure at some point I worked for University of Phoenix and graduated twice from the school. I'm no fanboy though. Those that know me know I am openly critical of the school's business practices and candid about their academics.

Public Agenda's study does the same thing with MOOCs but to their credit leaves out the for-profit bashing the Chronicle article includes so obviously.

Winston's Chronicle article also reports
And of the 200 community-college students surveyed, 42 percent said they had learned less from online courses than they had from learning in the classroom.
It would be easy to say that 58% of the students indicated the contrary but we can't be certain until we read the report from Public Agenda where the results indicate 53% learned about the same and 3% more than a face-to-face class. Didn't Answer or Don't Know made up the other 2%. So, the majority of students indicate that online was as good or more so than their traditional classes. Reporting the contrary shows the bias in the Chronicle.

Compare that to Public Agenda's other graph indicating difficulty and one sees that 38% indicated it was more difficult, 39% the same, and only 18% easier than traditional classes. Why couldn't that be reported?

Winston reports
According to the survey, students said not only were the online classes harder but they learned less.
That simply isn't the case and the report shows that. Public Agenda's own discussion indicates this as well and it is being misinterpreted.

What Would Make this Report Better?

A Toastmaster's mentor of mine always asked that question of his speeches. A few things could make this whole thing better.

Public Agenda Report

  1. The sample size needs to be increased significantly in order to generalizations across the online education sector.
  2. The obvious bias toward distance education needs to be removed
  3. The specifications about industry and student demographics need to be reported and the report should limit itself to representing only those specific areas.

Chronicle Article

  1. Journalistic bias is terrible thing and it is no wonder the Chronicle let it passed their editors. The Chronicle bashes distance education frequently especially when articles (rightly or wrongly) loop in the for-profits.
  2. Winston should take a deeper and more critical look at the report, the study, the research, and the discussion.
  3. The article should accurately report the study findings even if the study doesn't do the same.
Let me bottom line this and my feelings. First, the study should not have been published based on the obvious flaws described above. I would not be a foundational supporter of such poor research. Second, the article should never have been written or published based on the sample size alone. The study is seriously flawed and some first glance critical thinking shows that. 

Now, I can come to bed. (see the cartoon at the top).

Monday, September 9, 2013

Blackboard Booster - YouTube Search Function Quirk

Welcome to the Fall 2013 and the first Blackboard Booster of the academic year. As you know by now we upgraded Blackboard to a new service pack. So for people keeping count we are now running Blackboard Learn version 9.1.12 (<----12 being our service pack version).

Inevitably with every change to software some things are fixed and others are broken. Today's video talks about the popular YouTube search function and how to work around the extremely reduced number of videos you might find on a simple search.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

MOOC Prediction - Rebirth of the University Press

CC BY Gastev via Flickr
As a forward looking higher education professional, I am curious about the impact of MOOCs on Higher Education. I don't align myself to the xenophobic, "MOOCs are bad" or the pie-eyed, "MOOCs will change the face of higher education" mindset. Instead, I remain open to what might come and I try to find interesting ways to use MOOCs to propel higher education forward in meaningful and rigorous ways.

There are a lot of questions about MOOCs and just how they will or won't disrupt higher education which is why we ran the MOOCstitute. Throughout the Summer I heard and talked with highly intelligent people about this new innovation in higher education as part of Daemen's MOOCstitute. It sparked my own imagination about what  MOOCs really could do for us. In all the reading, listening, and discussing I've done this Summer about MOOCs, one such idea was the rebirth of the University Press.

Recently, I tweeted this revelation because it was on my mind.

And three days after I tweeted this, an article appears in The Chronicle showcasing a MOOC  with a companion novel and television special.

I also got some interesting dialog sparked with two forward-thinking folks from Instructure Canvas - Chris Edwards and Carrie Saarinen.
I'll spare you the full Twitter dialog, suffice to say you should be following all three of us to get the full view of the conversation that sparked this entry. The gist of it was...What do I mean, the rebirth or resurgence of the University Press?

Let's face it even large publishers are struggling and clamoring for every last dollar they can find in our pockets. Faculty, students, and administrators are fed up with the rising costs of textbooks. Worse, publishers are bundling media content and placing it all behind a pay wall to get more money that they disguise as value (seems like they are talking to the cable, phone, and satellite companies). Balderdash! All they are doing is adding cost to a population that can ill-afford to incur more costs. There seems to be no way, then, that University Presses can keep up with publishers struggling while having investors and a massive marketshare.

Enter - MOOCs!

First, MOOCs require the institution to create and deliver multiple forms of media. This is then delivered to the provider and put up online for the course.

Second, we're seeing a fair number of specialty or unique interest courses being taught across the platforms. These appeal to an interested and vibrant community of people who are often willing to part with a few dollars to fulfill their interest and curiosities.

Third, MOOCs offer experts a chance to sell or link to their own books or books they feel are worthy of the topic and audience.

CC BY-NC Bephep2010
So, let's combine this into a new University Press model for schools that is reshaped and revitalized. The package includes a finely published book (eBook, PDF, or print) and integrated instructional media (audio and video) for the student. Perhaps there could be some exclusive web content relating to the class. The University Press produces the package and makes it available to the students cutting out the publishers and more closely retaining the copyright for the author and school. Given the size and reach of MOOCs this could mean a rebirth to the University Press. It also might mean something more.

These packages could be made available through the school for purchase and include more professionally produced permanent media (print books, media DVDs, audio CDs, websites, etc). While the necessary content of the course is provided for free to MOOC students, a more complete and extensive collection is available for sale.

It might also become a channel for the school to produce web-based content like a mini-PBS affiliate. I can also see this becoming a vehicle to better partner with K12 schools offering publishable content about important subjects that teachers can access at a fraction of the cost of the big publishers.

I'm sure there are a plethora of avenues to explore here. Where do you think MOOCs might make an impact?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Blackboard Booster - Caution about Mobile Learn

I don't like Mobile Learn for students and it is more than the tool being a clunky awkward interface that confuses and confounds students.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blackboard Booster - Copying Tests

So you say you want a the way you use tests and quizzes in Blackboard. You're tired of manually creating the same tests with only a few edits each semester. Good news...I've got that revolution for you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Universal Design for Learning - Basics

As faculty members we are concerned with conveying knowledge and content in a meaningful way to our students. We're also keenly aware that the landscape of student learning is evolving. It is becoming more complex as we grow in our awareness that students are individuals with significant differences.

The path more taken is to design our courses with a singular delivery model and adjust it as demands for accommodations or change arise. However, with that we realize that it creates delays in student learning that puts them behind their peers in our classes. It also creates more work for us through the semester as we adapt materials. Enter Universal Design for Learning...

In our workshop we're covering a few of the basics. We need to introduce the concepts and give some practical skills that will help you realize the benefits of incorporating this technique. Here is a broadcast/video of our February 13, 2013 seminar.

Ideas for Your Class

Of course, as with any course re-design or modification it is often difficult to scrap it and begin again. We simply don't have time to do that. We also might not be able to fully envision the course redesigned in a UDL manner. To that end, begin smaller with making a few changes in your course. Here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Re-write your assignment to be universally clear
    • Segment information into smaller chunks
    • Use white space in the document liberally to permit readers to take a break and understand there is a break in your explanation
    • Use common language and/or language support for higher language levels
    • Avoid colors and complex formatting schemes
  • Present materials in multiple formats to students.
    • Use only digital formats for text (allowing them the option to print if needed).
    • If you are using video files for students, get help copying the audio-only portion for those students who prefer that format.
    • Provide written scripts or captions for audio, oral, or video presented materials
  • Provide an assignment choice where it make sense
    • Consider that some of your assignments might not need to be in a particular format.
    • Create assignment options that meet the same rigor but allow students to demonstrate knowledge in a format that is preferred or more adequate for their expression of knowledge
  • Make certain your learning space is accessible
    • Ensure your room layout provides adequate space for student work and mobility
    • Ensure your students can see materials easily
  • Provide guided notes for students when using projected materials so they do not need to write down notes as you lecture.
  • Allow students to audio record lectures or provide an audio recording for note taking and review afterwards.
  • Vary your delivery method between styles so students can benefit from different forms of instruction
    • Use a combination of lecture, hands-on application, reading, etc.
    • Allow students to provide input on what works best for their learning.
The CETL and the Experimental Classroom are available to help you design and develop these modifications. Another aspect of UDL is a broader supportive environment, of which, we can be a part.


Here are some resources for you about Universal Design for Learning, designing your courses, and advocacy for universal access to learning.