Owner: Terry Anderson
Group members: 38
The Canadian Initiative for Distance Education Research (CIDER) is a research initiative of the Centre for Distance Education, Canada's largest graduate and professional distance education programming provider, at Athabasca University, Canada's Open University.
CIDER sponsors a variety of professional development activities designed to increase the quantity and quality of distance education research. CIDER's professional development scope is broad, ranging from learning and teaching application, issues of finance and access, the strategic use of technology in distance education settings, and other factors that influence distance education in Canada.
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In the context of the hype, promise and perils of Big Data and the currently dominant paradigm of data-driven decision-making, it is important to critically engage with the potential of Big Data for higher education. We do not question the potential of Big Data, but we do raise a number of issues, and present a number of theses to be seriously considered in realising this potential.
The University of South Africa (Unisa) is one of the mega ODL institutions in the world with more than 360,000 students and a range of courses and programmes. Unisa already has access to a staggering amount of student data, hosted in disparate sources, and governed by different processes. As the university moves to mainstreaming online learning, the amount of and need for analyses of data are increasing, raising important questions regarding our assumptions, understanding, data sources, systems and processes.
This article presents a descriptive case study of the current state of student data at Unisa, as well as explores the impact of existing data sources and analytic approaches. From the analysis it is clear that in order for big(ger) data to be better data, a number of issues need to be addressed. The article concludes by presenting a number of theses that should form the basis for the imperative to optimise the harvesting, analysis and use of student data.
How do (potential) students differ in their preferences for the organization of online and distance courses and programs, can these differences be grouped into preference profiles, and are there any associations between these profiles and variables, such as achievement and dropout, that are relevant for the promotion and design of online and distance teaching?
In this study, three groups (enrolled students, N=1939; prospective students, N=296, people in the target group of the course or program, N=255) completed a survey consisting of 28 items with which to identify their preferences. Various significant differences in preferences between the groups were found in the item scores. Exploratory factor analysis resulted in five meaningful factors that were used to create 32 preference profiles that are identified by the dichotomized scores on the factors. In this way, the profiles conserve their dimensional relationship instead of presenting profiles as distinct types. The factors in which student preferences differ are: collaboration (group work versus self-study), pacing (fixed time schedule versus flexibility in time and tempo), the degree to which the study has a practical orientation, the degree of proactive (versus reactive) teaching and a preference for indepth learning versus superficial learning.
Significant associations have been found between preference profiles and the discipline in which the student group studies, the type of program (e.g., bachelor, master), and the number of study points obtained in the last year per discipline. The results indicate that the enrolled students are more aligned to the characteristics of the teaching-learning process than the other two groups.
Astronomy: State of the Art is a massive, open, online class (MOOC) offered through Udemy by an instructional team at the University of Arizona. With nearly 24,000 enrolled as of early 2015, it is the largest astronomy MOOC available. The astronomical numbers enrolled do not translate into a similar level of engagement. The content consists of 14 hours of video lecture, nearly 1,000 Powerpoint slides, 250 pages of background readings, and 20 podcast interviews with leading researchers. Perhaps in part because of the large amount of course content, the overall completion rate is low, about 3%. However, this number was four times higher for an early cohort of learners who were selected to have a prior interest in astronomy and who took the class in synchronous mode, with new content being added every week. Completion correlates with engagement as measured by posts to the online discussion board. For a subset of learners, social media like Facebook and Twitter provide an additional, important mode of engagement. For the asynchronous learners who have continuously enrolled for the past 15 months, those who complete the course do so quickly, with few persisting longer than two months. The availability of a free completion certificate had no impact of completion rates when it was added midway through the period of data analyzed in this paper. This experiment informs a new offering of an enhanced version of this MOOC via Coursera, along with a co-convened “flipped” introductory astronomy class at the University of Arizona, where the video lectures will be online and class time will be used exclusively for small group labs and hands-on activities. Despite their typically low completion rates, MOOCs have the potential to add significantly to public engagement with science, and they attract a worldwide audience.
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