Utilize Course Management Tools

Entrepreneur Michael Clifford suggested that the next generation of students will arrive to campus as “inhabitants” of the information age, accustomed to using technology in their daily lives, whereas most educators are “immigrants.” Many students grew up with personal computers, video games, mobile phones, and other high-tech gadgets. When they arrive on campus, they are confronted with a low-tech learning environment not all that different from high school. They gather in class with an instructor lecturing or writing on the blackboard, expected to take notes with pen and paper. They are then assigned readings or assignments from a textbook, and will face a number of written quizzes and exams, and perhaps a writing assignment, throughout the term.

Students are increasingly disengaged in the dominant lecture-based pedagogy of the past, as many regularly skip class, and college completion rates are abysmal. Many students are simply not stimulated or turned on to learning by this low-tech model. Colleges should embrace modern technology by using it to make learning more interactive in order to engage students and to enhance the experience both inside and outside of the classroom. Some critics have suggested that if colleges continue to fail to “keep pace with advances in learning technologies, then learning will leave schooling behind.” The incorporation of technology into the classroom is needed to maintain student interest and enhance the value of a college education.

While colleges have begun to implement some technology in the classroom, it has been at an unimpressive pace. Carol Twigg suggested that “[m]any campuses have simply bolted new technologies onto an existing set of physical facilities, a faculty already in place, and an unaltered concept of classroom instruction,” adding to the costs of college rather than embracing the potential of technology to “improve the quality of student learning, increase retention, and reduce the costs of instruction.” In addition to online learning, electronic course management tools present an opportunity to revolutionize the way that learning takes place and reduce costs along the way.

While there are assuredly technological breakthroughs that will trump the course management tools currently available, this chapter will discuss some of the present technologies such as learning management systems, web 2.0 and electronic classroom devices that are involved in the transformation of the 21st century classroom.

Learning Management Systems

A learning management system (LMS), or course management system (CMS), is an institutionally-licensed program in which instructors can make course materials available to students electronically, as well as use it to administer assessments, facilitate communication, and manage student records. A LMS can be used to teach courses online or to supplement classroom instruction, making it an ideal tool for blended course facilitation. Though there are costs associated with LMS, including software licensing, implementation costs, and maintenance costs for security and technical support, most institutions—m more than 90 percent of those surveyed by the Campus Computing Project (CCP)—have already deployed such a system. In addition, a growing number of institutions employ an open source LMS, which permits free licensing of the software and thus, lowers the overall cost.

There are currently a number of suppliers of LMS in the market, including commercial providers such as Blackboard (it acquired Angel Learning in May 2009, and WebCT in February 2006), eCollege and Desire2Learn, and open-source providers such as Sakai and Moodle.  Websites such as EduTools provide an expanded list of these systems as well as a side-by-side comparison of features. Blackboard has the biggest market share, with 56.8 percent of all institutions surveyed by the CCP indicating it as the campus standard in 2008. Table 20.1 displays the percentage of colleges with a single campus LMS provider, by institutional type.

Although the percentage of college courses that reportedly used a LMS system rose to 53.5 percent in 2008 from 14.7 percent in 2000, colleges should encourage greater use of existing LMS systems to improve course pedagogy, student participation, and to help reduce costs for students, especially given that the marginal cost of adding more courses is very small. Table 20.2 displays the percentage of courses making use of LMS tools for online course resources in 2008.

Table 20.1: Percent of Institutions with Single Product Standard LMS, 2008
Table 20.1: Percent of Institutions with Single Product Standard LMS, 2008
Table 20.2: Percent of Courses Using LMS, by Institution Type4
Table 20.2: Percent of Courses Using LMS, by Institution Type4

Although commercial LMS provider Blackboard enjoys a dominant market share, an increasing number of institutions are employing open-source LMS, as 13.3 percent of colleges surveyed for the 2008 CCP survey reported either Moodle or Sakai as their single product LMS standard, an increase from 10 percent in 2007, and 7.2 percent in 2006.

Moodle, a free open-source LMS that allows teachers to create dynamic websites for online courses or as a supplement to traditional courses, is the most common open-source LMS. It was reportedly used by 10 percent of all institutions surveyed by CCP, including 23.7 percent of private 4-year colleges and 1.6 percent of 2-year public colleges (see table 3 for more information) in 2008. Moodle reports that student enrollment approached 13.2 million in July 2009, with 2.25 million courses and 1.1 million instructors in nearly 200 countries.

Sakai is a flexible, free and open-source LMS designed by a community of educators to provide users with a “suite of learning, portfolio, library and project tools,” “designed to help instructors, researchers and students collaborate online in support of their work—whether it be course instruction, research or general project collaboration. More than 160 institutions worldwide have signed on to the initiative.  In the U.S., 3.8 percent of all institutions surveyed by the CCP, including 8 percent of public universities (see table 3 for more information), indicated Sakai as the standard campus LMS.

Electronic Classroom Devices

The lecture model of instruction may have been the most efficient method to deliver information to large groups of people fifty years ago, but the modern information age presents so many opportunities to incorporate technology in to the classroom that its value has been greatly diminished. Thus far a number of devices have been developed that present an opportunity to transform the classroom experience, including innovations such as electronic notebooks, laptop computers and classroom clickers. We will briefly describe the potential implications of these various devices, as the technology frontier is continuously changing and much of what exists today will likely be replaced by more advanced technology within a few years.

Electronic Notebooks and Readers

The electronic book has achieved marketplace success, as a growing number of brands, including the Sony Reader, the Barnes and Noble Nook, and the Amazon Kindle, now produce notebook-size devices designed exclusively for reading electronic books. The e-Reader industry has had early but limited success in marketing its products to colleges, as the limited functionality of the devices is a hindrance to student adaptation. As the electronic notebook market is likely still in a stage of growth, we anticipate that device makers will adapt to student needs in order to penetrate the college market in the future. In fact, new competitors have already begun to emerge in this market, such as Apple’s newest gadget—the iPad—which contains features that are conducive for students and the classroom. Apple touts the iPad as an e-reader, application platform, e-mail client, and web browser. It has been suggested that the device will complement many student-related activities perfectly, with applications designed to permit electronic note-taking, textbook access, recording of lectures and organization of course information.

Laptop Computers

Laptop computers are very popular among college students, yet their use in the classroom remains relatively unexploited. Laptops offer many advantages for the classroom, including the ability to take notes electronically, to utilize software that is relevant to the course such as spreadsheets, to access a world of information on the internet, and much more. Many MBA programs have recognized the usefulness of laptops in the classroom in training future business leaders and now require that students have one. While admittedly not all courses are conducive to laptops, they present an opportunity to enhance the classroom learning experience.

Clickers

A clicker is a handheld device that allows instructors to obtain instant feedback from students during class. For example, an instructor could incorporate multiple choice questions into a power point type projection and then have students click the answer that they believe is correct, with the results instantly generated and appearing on the screen as bar graphs showing the percentage of students who selected each answer choice. Because clickers can be programmed specifically to individual students, they have the potential to be used to facilitate in-class quizzes or for attendance purposes.

 

Web 2.0

Web 2.0 refers to web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design, and collaboration on the internet. Web 2.0 sites allow users to interact with each other or to change website content, as opposed to non-interactive websites in which users are limited to the passive viewing of information that is provided to them. Examples of Web 2.0 include wiki pages, blogs, video and note sharing, among others. Most Web 2.0 sites are free to register, so instructors can integrate them into the curriculum at a minimal cost—mainly consisting of the time to set up the site.

Wiki Pages

A wiki is a popular interface that allows users to alter the content of a webpage. Wikipedia, the open-source online encyclopedia that allows users to edit content, has become a household name. Colleges are increasingly making use of the technology, as 16.7 percent of institutions reported having a ‘public campus wiki’ in 2008, an increase from 13 percent the prior year. Some professors have even begun integrating wiki technology into the classroom learning experience. University of Iowa Law Professor Lea VanderVelde had her employment law class research and develop a 1,300 page wiki textbook for the course, rather than teach from a traditional textbook. She plans to have future students in the course use the wiki model and add to what has already been created, as well as recreate some of the information that she believes they “should research and present on their own.”

Blogs

The term blog is a contraction for web log and is a type of website that contains commentary or news on a particular topic. Bloggers can include audio, photos, surveys, and video in their posts, and often permit reader comments to encourage discussion. The medium has gained momentum in the classroom, as instructors view blogs as a way to facilitate writing assignments and discussions in an online format, as well as to enhance students’ writing skills. A Quinnipiac University English professor incorporated blogging into her courses and claims that it has improved the quality of student writing, suggesting that by posting the writing assignments on the internet, subject to peer comment, it “makes them think in terms of crafting their work for a bigger audience,” giving them a “bigger stake in what they are writing.” John G. Palfrey of Harvard University said that he uses a blog as a class supplement and suggested that “It's been really effective at linking ideas that we are talking about in class and effective at continuing the conversation” after class is over.“

Micro-blogging via sites such as Twitter is another relatively new phenomenon that is gaining traction among instructors. It allows users to post brief real time updates (limited to 140 characters) about their thoughts or activities to the Web from their computer or phone. An October Pew Internet & American Life Project report indicated that 19 percent of internet users, including 37 percent of the 18 to 24 year old cohort, make use of Twitter or another service to share updates about themselves or see updates about others. David Parry, an assistant professor of Emergent Media and Communications at the University of Texas at Dallas, espoused the potential of Twitter for Academia, suggesting that it prompts conversation to continue outside of the classroom, promotes community among students and can help improve writing. Twitter could also be used to make course announcements or to share important news quickly across campus.

Despite the potential of improving student learning, only 6.8 percent of classrooms reported using either a wiki or blog in the 2008 CCP survey.

Video Sharing

Video sharing has become an increasingly popular way to transmit information on the internet. Media outlets and other organizations increasingly broadcast news in real time online. Popular websites such as YouTube and Google Video have enabled amateurs to make use of the technology. A July 2007 Pew Internet report indicated that 22 percent of online video viewers have watched an educational video. Online video sites such as YouTube and Big Think are increasingly targeting academe for content, as many colleges have signed agreements to establish official ‘channels’. It is reported that some lectures have garnered seven digit viewership, suggesting that some highly successful professors are “in a sense rock stars.” Additionally, some creative professors have created educational music videos that explain basic principles of a given subject that are appealing to students. For instance, director John Papola and economist Russ Roberts produced a rap video, “Fear the Boom and Bust,” that portrays the main differences between two schools of economic thought, and has already garnered more than 1 million views on Youtube at the time of this writing.

Despite the potential educational benefits, only 10.5 percent of classrooms reported using online video resources in the 2008 CCP. Colleges also stand to benefit from partnering with online video sharing sites because it generates traffic to the institution’s homepage. Some have suggested that Web videos help improve the quality of lectures and increase the “level of accountability for what happens in the classroom.” Video sharing has the potential to expand the access of college lectures to viewers in geographically displaced areas that are far-removed from campus.

Note Sharing

Peer-to-peer note sharing is a technological innovation that permits students or professors to post their notes online to websites such as Gradeguru.com, WiseCampus.com or FinalsClub.org, that can be downloaded by the public. Some critics, such as Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, have suggested that note sharing might encourage students to cut class or otherwise exacerbate an already unacceptable level of laziness in today’s college students. Others believe that it confers substantial benefits, such as enhanced opportunities for student learning and the democratization of higher education by providing open access to the information presented and recorded in the classroom.

 

The Benefits of Course Management Tools

Entrepreneurs continue to create opportunities to modify the way that education is delivered. The next generation of students will expect nothing less than a college classroom which incorporates elements of the digital world that it is accustomed to using. The three main reasons to implement course management tools into the classroom is that they minimize costs, improve learning, and provide students with marketable skills.

Minimize Costs

First, the costs of implementing many of these course management tools are minimal and in some cases, may even reduce costs from the existing structure. For example, commercial LMS providers such as Blackboard charge a fee for use, but as stated above, many colleges already pay these fees so the marginal cost of adding a course is fairly low. As a growing number of schools move to the open source LMS format, which don’t charge a fee, it is likely that the price of commercial providers will also continue to fall. For most web 2.0 technologies, the service is available at virtually no cost other than time. For instance, there are a growing number of blog providers that allow users to create their own blog at no cost, and there is no cost to setup a Youtube video page, or to download any of its videos. Video lectures can also be reused by an institution, reducing the cost of instruction. Electronic devices can be expensive, but it is an extremely competitive market, so prices generally decline rapidly over time. Students also generally buy these devices on their own, but it might be beneficial for some schools to engage in a group purchase of say iPads or laptops for their students, and pass the cost savings achieved by buying in bulk on to students.

Improve Learning

The next benefit from transforming the class with technology is that it will permit the greater facilitation of blended (the combination of face-to-face and online) learning, which was determined by the Department of Education to be superior in terms of learning outcomes when compared to traditional face-to-face learning. Course content and other relevant information can be discussed in real-time both inside and outside of the classroom using LMS and Web 2.0 technology, as they both generally have a platform that permits interactive electronic discussion and the sharing of information. For instance, LMS users can post links to research or other course-related information in a discussion forum, which other students can access at any time and offer additional feedback. Similarly, an instructor using a classroom blog can post items for course discussion, and students can respond to not only the professor, but also to one another. This is an interactive way to facilitate course discussion, independent research, and thought beyond the classroom in a way that is likely to improve student engagement and learning outcomes.

Provide Students with Marketable Skills

Finally, utilizing information age tools in the classroom will benefit students by preparing them to successfully navigate an increasingly complex world of information, which will be essential to remaining competitive in the job market of the future. For example, recall the University of Iowa employment law class mentioned above. The students were actively involved in developing a wiki page of information for the class. In doing so, the students gained a practical technological skill that will likely be useful in their future professional lives. Another example is the classroom blog, as it provides students with experience in gathering and organizing information, as well as web publishing. Organizations and professionals increasingly are involved in web 2.0 and social media, so students who gain experience in these mediums during college will be attractive in the marketplace after graduation.

Limitations and Challenges

Although education technology is exciting and has the potential to transform the traditional classroom into one that incorporates technological advancements, there are some limitations and challenges that must be addressed.

Costs

The cost of new technology can be a barrier for colleges, as they are unable to invest in every promising technology that emerges. They would therefore be wise to wait for the price tag to drop if a certain technology does prove valuable in the classroom. This does not mean that colleges should not experiment on a small scale with various technologies to determine which have the most merit, but it does require some restraint.

Technological Uncertainty

Moreover, the pace of technological change is rapid, so there is uncertainty as to which technologies colleges should invest in. When new technologies first emerge, they are often quite expensive and their value not yet known. In addition, product life cycles for new technologies are often quite short. Colleges must therefore exercise restraint before diving head first into a technology that may become obsolete in a short period of time.

Learning Curve

Additionally, there is a learning curve involved with this new technology. Many students have grown up with the technology at their fingertips; while they are quick to adapt to the latest technological innovations and gadgets, many older, nontraditional students (as well as their instructors) aren’t. This necessitates that users be allowed sufficient time to learn to use new technology, delaying full scale implementation. Some instructors—quite complacent in their methods of instruction—may even resist implementation of a new technology in the classroom. Negative attitudes from a large number of faculty members towards online courses confirm that this is a real possibility.

Technical and Security Issues

Lastly, there are technical and security issues as there are with all information technologies. For electronic devices, battery life and access to electrical outlets are concerns. Such devices are also subject to malfunction, which could result in a student losing all of his study materials. Learning management systems are dependent on constant and reliable access to the internet. Because they are often web-based, LMS are also subject to security threats such as hackers. The same is true for web 2.0 tools.

Conclusion

Course management tools and classroom devices have the potential to transform the traditional lecture-style classroom into a technology-driven student learning environment. Some technologies have already made a significant impact, such as LMS. The emergence of open source LMS provides colleges with an opportunity to reduce their technology costs, as providers such as Moodle and Sakai offer free access to their software. Other technology, such as web 2.0 and portable electronic devices, present an opportunity to enhance the classroom learning experience by integrating tools that students will likely make use of in their future careers. Some of these tools, such as blogging and wikis, can be integrated into the classroom at very little cost, if any. As entrepreneurs continue to develop an abundance of technology for use in the classroom, the opportunities for learning enhancement and engagement, as well as cost reductions, will become more apparent to colleges and policymakers. While there are challenges and limitations that must be considered, we believe that the substantial benefits of many new educational tools and information technologies outweigh these concerns, and that their adoption could improve student learning, lower the costs of college, and provide students with marketable skills for the 21st century workplace.