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Columbia U Pilots LMS Design Partnership with Pearson

An instructional design team from Columbia University's School of Continuing Education will be using the Pearson LearningStudio engine as the basis for developing a new, more social platform for delivering online programs. The school will begin piloting classes with the new platform this summer for offerings in an existing business certificate program as well as a new 16-month master of science in information and knowledge strategy delivered in hybrid form. Additional pilot programs using the jointly created technology will also take place at several other institutions over the summer.

According to Marni Baker Stein, senior associate dean for curriculum and instruction in the School of Continuing Education, the focus of the partnership will be to evolve the interface of LearningStudio to encourage social interaction.

"We had been quite underwhelmed by a lot of what was out there in the world of top LMS solutions," she said. "We had been working for some time at developing our own semi-custom solution."

After talking with Pearson, "There was a meeting of the minds," Baker Stein said. "Our teams got together and could speak the same language. So we decided to engage in this partnership to take some of the lessons we learned, take some of the directions they were headed, and bring those together in the development of this new kind of LMS platform that is going to be very exciting."

Pearson's technology will provide scalability and reliability as well as access to LearningStudio's data tools. These include Enterprise Reporting, to monitor and track trends in student performance, and Learning Outcome Manager, which helps manage student completion of learning objectives and goals.

As an example of one aspect of the new interface being developed to work with the LMS, Baker Stein described how students would be able to create a profile that would let them add a picture and information about themselves, and that profile would attach itself to other activities they do in the social components of the site.

"Instead of going in and seeing a bunch of folders, the students are the first thing you see when you come into your course and the latest stuff they've submitted. If they participate in a discussion forum or in micro blogging on the site, that participation gets put into a feed similar to Facebook," she said. "So when you log into the course, you see all the faces of your classmates beside their latest contributions to the site, which is kind of exciting. It puts students at the center of the action."

Research in previous work, added Baker Stein, showed that participation in social forums in a course really increased dramatically "simply by having the picture of the student beside the post and having a kind of running newsfeed of what's going on in terms of student interaction with the course. So we're excited about that."

Columbia has assembled a research team around the pilot work to study the results.

According to Pearson the summer pilot will involve a total of 25 participants from other institutions; the company reported it will add an additional 10 before a general release in the fall. Those other "design partners" will be providing ongoing feedback and recommendations, the company said, but the Columbia team is providing the primary input for the original design and phase one release.

Columbia U will actually run pilots in both the summer and fall 2011. "If we like the results, then our plan is to move our continuing education courses onto the platform," Baker Stein said. "That's a decision we would make next year." If the goals are met, she added, "this is something many schools would be interested in."

The design team meets with the Pearson design team regularly, she said. They've had several face-to-face meetings; now weekly remote meetings with Pearson are alternated with meetings with the research team.

"We anticipate that this collaboration will yield a model of innovative learning that will serve to advance higher education in the 21st century," said Kristine Billmyer, Columbia's dean of the School of Continuing Education.

The Columbia-influenced Pearson platform will be the latest addition to the university's collection of learning management systems. That current set of offerings varies by school and includes open source applications Sakai and Moodle; Angel, acquired by Blackboard in 2009; and CourseWorks, a derivative of Prometheus, acquired by Blackboard in 2002.

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