From eLearning on Handhelds to eSurveys
Just when you think a technology has been surpassed by the next big thing,
it sneaks up on you again. For years there have been various attempts to do
interesting things with PDAs in the classroom. PDA manufacturers have funded
grant programs to seek out creative applications that demonstrate why you should
consider using PDAs for your students, or, encouraging or requiring them to
make the purchase.
But the general sense is that the value of the PDA is in its name: a digital
assistant, doing assistant-like things well, such as keeping track of your schedule,
phone numbers and the occasional restaurant look-up in a foreign city.
Committing to a technology in search of applications is generally a high- risk
endeavor. Various schools have tried, and the results have been interesting.
Medical students at Harvard, for instance, all seem to have PDAs because scheduling
time is a critical activity. For them, it’s worth the cost, especially
given their income potential. For the rest of us, keying in on the ‘assistant’
attribute also shows some promise. Using PDAs as programmable data collection
devices has proven useful (http://www.concord.org/research/handhelds.html).
The trend in classroom interactive tools has been to try to drive the cost of
registering the students’ responses down, and put the effort into creative
question presentation, management, response capture, and interpretation. Classroom
response ‘clickers’ are in the $25 per unit range for a variety
of products. The cost is in the special access point and software that is polling
it, then processing and presenting the data.
WiFi may be changing all that. eLearning Dynamics Inc. (www.eLearningDynamics.
com), in partnership with Wake Forest University, has entered the online course-tool
arena with an approach that combines PocketPCs, dynamic interaction, and testing.
The entire system is managed from a laptop computer via the enterprise services
of an 802.11b wireless network. PocketClassroom software lets the faculty member
poll the class with a variety of questions, instantly counting the responses
and displaying them for just the instructor, or for the instructor and the students.
Careful attention to classroom testing, assessment, and the workflow of handling
these functions distinguishes PocketClassroom from many more extensive online
Combining secure and confidential messaging with group and threaded discussion
tools, all from the PocketPC, lets the instructor engage students in discussion
and poll them when desired. Reporting tools for comparing students in the class,
across classes, and across academic years is possible. It is unusual for a PocketPC
device to enable such a wide suite of student testing options. However, it may
give you a clue to know that the company’s heritage comes from the entertainment
world, measuring responses to test audiences during screenings of Hollywood
As the Tablet PC starts to enter the marketplace, is there room for the handheld
form factor? The personal device market is highly volatile, so it’s difficult
to know whether the Tablet offers sufficient teaching and learning support for
the price point to capture faculty, student, and institutional attention. Time
A University of Michigan
grad student faces up to five
years in prison for hacking into the university’s computer system
and stealing private usernames and passwords of over 60 students and professors.
Graphics programs dominated the Top 10 list of software applications sold
to the academic market by Dallas-based Journey Education Marketing
, with Microsoft Office XP Professional taking the top spot.
purchased an open architecture
Linux-based supercomputer which users say will help it build a community
of users of parallel scientific computing.
purchased the entire collection of
Gale's 18th Century Collections Online, a digital content pool of 150,000
rare English-language and foreign-language books and papers published
in Great Britain during the 18th century.
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Outsource or Do It Yourself?
When the time comes to administer an online assessment, what do you do? You
might develop your own Web page, marry it to a CGI script to have the results
e-mailed to you as a text file, and spend time aggregating the results into
something you hope will be useful. Alternately, if the survey is to go to a
large number of people you might contract with an in-house service if your campus
has one, or consider purchasing a testing package. If you’re on a campus
with a course management system—and increasingly more campuses are investing
in these systems—part of that system might administer one flavor or another
But did you know that there are other options? A host of online survey firms
have emerged on the Internet to offer you either flat rate or per-survey online
assessment options. If you don’t have a package available to you from
your school, or the one you have isn’t to your liking, consider using
one of the many Web offerings (see box, below).
Do online survey services really offer a valuable service? You’ll have
to judge that for yourself. I can tell you that a major institution, which shall
remain nameless, was, like many, doing online surveys of its faculty. They were
using a unit within their university that did good, quality, survey research.
But it was primarily a survey that, with the right tools and some effort, might
have been done in another way and for a lot less than the $65,000 a year that
was being charged. That’s exactly what was done. A subscription to an
online survey service was taken and the survey transferred to this delivery
method. Statistical summaries were obtained, as before, and basic item analysis
of the results provided.
But there are drawbacks to this approach. The data returned are from individual
surveys and not therefore integrated into any on-going record of either the
individual respondents or of a series of assessment instruments. That d'esn’t
prevent someone from building this data set after the fact.
Whether or not you find online Web survey services useful depends on your needs.
At the very least you should consider the option of outsourcing if it saves
you time and money and provides what you need.
If you didn’t make it this year’s Syllabus conference, you missed
a good one. The conversation was engaging, the visit to Stanford exciting, and
the sessions worthwhile. This was an interesting ‘experiment.’ It
combined a community discussion about teaching and learning with technology
and a visit to a campus where we saw examples of different decisions about teaching
with technology implemented. If you attended Syllabus, let me know what you
thought of this approach to sharing ideas. Was the conference center plus campus
visit a winning combination?