Dorm, Major, or Race

“College freshmen are more likely to make friends with peers they share a dorm room or major with than they are to befriend those from similar racial backgrounds…”

I barely remember my roommate from living in the dorm freshman year. He was as much a stranger to me as the person you routinely run into at the store. I felt trapped living on campus when I wanted to be a few miles away in my own bed. His leaving town on weekends to go see his girlfriend was good for me.

My initial declared major was pre-engineering. None of my true friends were also pre-engineering, but then again my true friends were mostly met in high school. The few friends I made in college were all over the place major-wise: pre-law, biology, chemistry, philosophy, english, education, business. They were people I met either in class or at work.

The researchers used Facebook as the measure of who are friends. Given most friendships on Facebook are weak ties rather than strong. The people we know well, trust, and hold great affection reflect our strong ties. The people we barely know, but on whom we depend for the information social networks convey are our weak ties. Facebook is excellent for this. From this perspective, if I were a freshman in college today, I probably would be getting as many people in my classes as I could. (This is why so many of my coworkers are in my list of friends. Don’t worry, Glenn, you are more than just an acquaintance. :))

Anya Kamenetz: DIY U: The Coming Transformation of Higher Education

The solution to the upcoming fall of higher education is openness of content and sell the services beyond the content. Lower the cost by sharing. Will be interesting to see whether higher education would actually go in this direction.

Instead what I have seen is colleges trying to figure out how much of a premium to charge completely online classes over the normal tuition. The boundaries were in-state and out-of-state tuition. Charging less than in-state tuition was seen as crazy because the assumption was no in-state students would take a class online when they lived close enough to show up in class.

Organization Relationships

A friend of mine who I used to work with once remarked (2007-ish) the University System of Georgia does not really work like a system so much as a loose confederation fighting over money. Given I have no access to budgets, I would not know. GeorgiaVIEW works remarkably well given there are only a few people running the system and hoards of people administrating it for their campus. There is a mostly correct mix of grassroots and top down pressure.

The Board of Regents Information Technology Services have fostered a culture of “help requests must go through the tickets”. Tickets allow the team to better triage issues. Tickets show leaders we are helpful. The unintended consequence is weakening the relationships we have. Tickets indicate we are too busy to be helpful. Relationships are accountable so an individual shows vulnerability to me by admitting not understanding, breaking, or other problems. My part of the relationship is to console, advise, or fix the problems. Tickets make all this harder because they are less personal.

When I talk with my coworkers, we covet the connections we hold across the system for they are the true value. How do we develop these relationships inside the formality of processes which fail to incentivise them?

We have email lists, instant messages, weekly Wimba sessions, etc., but there is obviously  a problem when the same people who have these things only tell me about things when they see me in person. I’m reminded of the ITS CIO spending time going to campuses to talk to them about their needs. Maybe that should something we do throughout the organization especially at my level? Also, when I was at Valdosta State, my best information about the needs of faculty members and students came from visiting them not the technology I developed to encourage reporting issues.

Technology is not magic. It does make those who are not communicating start. It just shifts the form and potentially makes it more difficult. Ideally the difficulty will be so slight no one will notice. One can make communication easier by going from a more difficult technology to a more easy form. Still… It is not as good as being there with the person.

Please Don’t Write Off the LMS Just Yet

Found the Educational Technology Trends 2010 quite interesting. Especially the part which predicts yet again (still?) the death of the LMS.

Both learning and learning content are moving away from traditional centripetal models, in which everything happens at set locations and is controlled at the institutional/publisher level (top-down), and moving toward centrifugal models that are learner-focused (bottom-up) and in which learning happens wherever a student happens to be. This means new platform models for learning (post-LMS), greater mobile access, more flexible e-commerce models, and a renewed explosion in generic online learning.

I suspect the relationship between the LMS and what is next is more like  LMS : post-LMS/PLE/DIY U :: book : Internet. The Internet has not as of yet killed off the book. We still have plenty of books available. Even books are shifting towards digital. The Internet just moved into greater prominence and changed how we think. Similarly, new platforms may result in something which we will think of as how students learn in higher education, but the LMS will still be around for a very long while. (Which is good because it means I still have a job for a while.)

USG Annual Computing Conference

Some of you may have noticed me posting on Twitter using the #usgre10 hashtag. This was the recommended tag to use when posting about the conference.

In talking to a director at a university in the University System of Georgia, he said something interesting which had been said to my CIO, “More good for the USG will be accomplished here at Rock Eagle in these two days then the rest of the year.” (This sounds like When Ideas Have Sex or Where Good Ideas Come From.) This conference had been canceled due to lack of funding from both internal and corporate sponsorship. Due to demand from many universities, the conference was restored.

First, one-on-one conversations happen which might not otherwise occur. My former boss at Valdosta State asked me about a decision my group had made which his assistant director kept pushing back as unacceptable. He explained what he’d understood. I explained what I understood. Suddenly it made more sense to him. I was then able to explain it to the assistant director so she understood. A huge problem went away from 15 minutes of conversation? That is a huge win-win for everyone.

Second, getting to see sessions on the work being done at other schools in the system I wish I knew was being done. UGA developed a tool called El Cid which accomplishes many of the needs we have with one “institution” with 43 different administrators because multiple schools participate in various programs. The administrators were provided rights I disagree are appropriate because their needs are not available at the level where they do have access. El Cid could allow them to do those things for their areas without having the rights to mess up other areas.

Third, criticism which might not otherwise be expressed. As much as it pains me to hear it, I do need to hear the complaints people have about the products we run, the service we provide, and the planned directions. With the phone calls, tickets, emails, surveys, and other communication we do, it seems like what is being done is okay. However, get those same people into a room and the criticism comes flooding forth. This is the food we need understand so we can make improvements.

UPDATE: 2010-OCT-22 at 17:12

Fourth, the wishlists which might otherwise languish. I suspect people are hesitant to put requests in writing which might be negative. We like tickets because they can be tracked and provide a history. However, we also put requirements on opening a ticket like the section, the users, and the time. These requirements mean people may not open a ticket because they do not have enough information. They also may not open a ticket because these requirements make it sound like the bar is extremely high to warrant of spending the effort. The act of speaking to me eliminates the filter.

Fifth, while we have email, phone, instant messenger, wikis, Twitter, (and soon Sharepoint and Office Communicator,) etc., the reality is none of these methods establish the strong social bonds we get from face-t0-face. A strong community has social bonds as the foundation. These tools work well when the social bonds are already there.

Report Just Usernames

Occasionally I’ll want to see the usernames who use something like a user-agent property or were doing something during a range of time. Rather than report all the log lines and pick them out of the data, I use this which Blackboard (or maybe BEA added).

Note  we’ve added user-agents to the webserver.log. The double quote I use as my delimiter in the awk is from us adding the user-agent to the webserver logs.If you have not set up your logs to use this, then you’ll either need to do so or figure out which position is appropriate for you with a space delimiter. The colon in the second awk is where just after the username the log records the reads and writes to the database.

| awk -F\” ‘{print $3}’ | awk -F\: ‘{print $1}’ | sort | uniq

An example usage is a case was escalated to me where a student had trouble taking an assessment. That student was, of course, using Internet Explorer 7, a web browser which prior CE/Vista 8.0.4 was supported. Now it is not. (Could be likely this is reason Blackboard stopped supporting in.) So I was curious how many users are still trying to use this browser.

TV Schedules

It seems to me television programmers between college and professional football there would be at least 1,000 games per year which would provide the necessary data points for understanding how long these games typically last. Yet, consistently the games which start on time still run about an hour or more longer than the 3 hour time slots allocated. The programmers understand this enough to schedule the games four hours apart and schedule a post-game review in this period just in case it ends early. Just include that as part of the original “episode” since you include the same announcers in the pre-game.

The TV schedule should make it convenient to know what program is on when. Inaccuracy of the data leads to distrust. (Got a weird deja vu moment writing that.)

Mostly though this is about knowing what to schedule on my DVR. Soccer time slots generally are set for 2 or 2.5 hours so I typically extend them to 3 hours. A half hour or hour are available options. The only time I’ve been burned by this is an LA Galaxy game where there was a couple power outages. (American) Football consistently burns me.

Smart Groups

We started in a conversation about an interesting grant seeking to help students from low-income families through OpenCourseWare and providing them better information. An Open Source LMS != open coureseware. OSLMS is running students through online classes. OCW is providing the content so anyone can download and use it. The better information section sounded to me suspiciously like SHERPA, which uses preferences students have previously made to guide them to resources and classes. George pointed out in the past people predicted the death of universities in just a few more years over people being able to learn the information for any course just by downloading it. Unfortunately, only some people can just take texts and videos then naturally know how to build upon them. The more powerful method to reach students seems to be making the content relevant to solving real-life problems, especially one where the learner benefits over or with another.

Next, I diverted the conversation off on a tangent about how a book recommended managers build teams by evaluating the attitudes, habits, and personalities and then place the members so they cover each others weaknesses. This article about social cooperation skills trumping intelligence has been mulling about in my head for a couple weeks.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that collaborative groups who conversed easily with equal participation were more efficient at completing sets of given tasks — and produced better results — than groups dominated by individuals.

It occurred to me what universities should try towards solving retention is to devise methods of helping students build teams. Take something like eHarmony which is based on helping people find others with similar values, but instead have it look at traits useful for learning and solving problems and cooperation. Then make it easy for students to meet each other in classes and work together. The student who is good at locating lots of information from research but weak in logic is paired with one who is weak in research but strong in logic. Learning together, maybe they would end up better students, more engaged, and more productive.

Failure to Improve Online Retention

A former coworker, Cat Finnegan, worked on retention of online students. Recent articles about online students having higher drop out rates than face-to-face caught my eye. Especially the rationales. The recent articles all are about the work done at KSU (whose online class system we host, well one of them: Blackboard) which will be published in the International Journal of Management in Education as “The Impact of Student Retention Strategies: An Empirical Study”.

Online courses cover the same material as traditional classes. The tuition costs are the same and they’re are on the same semester system as bricks-and-mortar classes. But some online students struggle because they can’t keep with the material, get distracted by work or family or miss interacting with professors and other students.

Faculty use different strategies to combat this problem — calling students at home, sending e-mails, even asking students to sign contracts pledging to stay on top of assignments. Campbell and five other professors at Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business wondered whether these methods work and tested them during the spring 2009 semester.

I am eagerly awaiting publication of this paper. I’d like to understand what actually was tried and failed rather than depend on these summaries.

The former coworker’s paper references a paper called “Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson which addresses what are the things which help students. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Campbell et al should identify how their faculty members are addressing each in their online classes.

  • Encourage student-faculty contact,
  • Encourage cooperation among students,
  • Encourage active learning,
  • Give prompt feedback,
  • Emphasize time on task,
  • Communicate high expectations, and
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

I’m curious if some equivalent was used, how they identified the struggles of the students, and how they determined to try these methods to solve the issue.

Georgia Gwinnett College, another school in our system provided faculty smartphones so students can call. While KSU had the faculty call the students, these seem like similar approaches to improve retention.