Monday, January 31, 2011

Minimal health IT standards, data control are a start for learning health system

By Kathryn Foxhall

A minimum of required health IT standards and centralization of data is what’s needed to foster the best climate in which to develop a learning health system and provide a foundation for its expansion, according to the Institute of Medicine.

These were some of the main conclusions garnered from various workshops held throughout 2010, sponsored by the IOM and Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, which focused on ways to promote technical advances in health care, generate and use information, and engage patients.

A report on the workshop results--Roundtable on Value and Science-Driven Health Care-- was published Dec. 20, and laid out various strategies for using IT to accelerate progress in improving healthcare. 
One approach to a digital infrastructure for the learning health system is an “ultra-large-scale system,” in which a few key elements, such as requirements for health information exchange, are standard. At the same time, participants would have flexibility for innovations, and incremental advances in functionality would be the product of “architectural precepts, incentives, and compliance assessment, but not by centralized control,” according to the report.

“[By] incorporating decentralization of data, development, and operational authority and control, this approach fosters local innovation, personalization, and emergent behaviors,” the report said.

Participants in the workshops also endorsed incorporating services and research in a “continuous learning loop” in which the generation and use of knowledge are integrated in healthcare delivery, research, quality improvement and population monitoring.

Health IT also presents an opportunity to improve patients’ access to health information so they and their caregivers can take a more active role in decisions. Integration of data across various sources, including clinical, public health and commercial, is also central to improving care for both individuals and populations, the report said.

This article was originally posted at

Friday, January 28, 2011

Who Needs Textbooks?

Jessie Sellers, a student at Tacoma Community College in Washington state, was puzzled when he logged onto his school’s website last December to figure out which book he needed for his upcoming English class. Whereas for all his previous courses, the 24-year-old education major could simply click on a link to view the name of the required textbook, this time there were no books listed at all. It was no mistake: thanks to an ambitious pilot program aimed at reducing the cost of textbooks at public colleges, Sellers and hundreds of other students across the state won’t have to buy textbooks for more than three dozen courses offered this winter.

Washington’s Open Course Library is the largest state-funded effort in the nation to make core college course materials available on the Web for $30 or less per class. Financed with $750,000 from the state of Washington and a matching grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the goal isn’t just to reduce student costs, says program architect Cable Green. It’s also to create engaging, interactive learning materials that will help improve course completion rates. By the time the project is completed in 2012, digitized textbook equivalents for some 81 high-enrollment classes will be available online for the more than 400,000 students enrolled in Washington’s network of community and technical colleges. Even better, the materials can be shared across the globe, largely for free, because they will be published in an open format that avoids the most onerous licensing restrictions. To keep costs at a minimum, the teachers developing the materials are relying primarily on either existing material in the public domain or embarking on the painstaking task of developing materials from scratch.

Creating high-quality, interactive course material isn’t just a cut-and-paste job off the Web. From avoiding copyright-protected sources to finding material that is written at the appropriate level for beginning college students, the task of culling online materials is no elementary endeavor. Professor Phil Venditti, who is designing a public- speaking course to be piloted in the spring at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, Wash., plans to link students to online speech banks, such as American Rhetoric’s and even the videos on the White House website. But he says he wrote the main text for the class himself because preexisting resources were either copyright protected or not concise enough for his needs. “We only have 50 to 55 hours of class time together, and I would like my students to become top-notch speakers,” says Venditti. Adds another teacher, Ralph Dawes, who is designing the materials for an introductory geology course: “You have to find a balance between explaining enough but not having too much information.”

Although designing complete course materials from scratch is undoubtedly a big task, the idea is that any instructor who teaches the same course on another Washington State campus will then be able to use the new materials designed by a colleague. Instructors are also free to add or subtract content to suit their needs. What’s more, the $30 budget for each course enables teachers to use a limited amount of materials with copyright restrictions, should they be needed. As for concerns that material that is freely available may not be of the same quality as that which teachers must pay for, project head Green says, “the intellectual property license on content has absolutely nothing to do with quality of content. “ It would make it tough, however, to teach a class on, say, great works of modern American fiction, since classics like J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye still have strict copyright protection.

Jessie Sellers’s English professor Jacqui Cain doesn’t have that problem, however, because her class focuses on basic reading, writing, and grammatical skills. To redesign her course, she began by replacing the $85 We Are America textbook (which includes Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and an excerpt from the 1989 Amy Tan novel, The Joy Luck Club, for example) with five of her favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, which she downloaded for free from the Project Gutenberg library. Next she enhanced the online text with pop-ups that define and illustrate bygone words such as “gasogene,” a Victorian-era, handheld gadget used to carbonate water. She even found MP3 recordings of each story that students can download and listen to on portable music players. “I tried to make it as immersive as I could,” says Cain, adding, “detective stories are especially good because they motivate students to figure something out from a reading.” They also teach deductive reasoning skills that improve reading comprehension, she says.

Green estimates that the initiative could save Washington State students up to $41 million in textbook costs per year. This dollars-and-sense argument helped legislator Reuven Carlyle convince the state to pony up some $750,000 in financing last year, despite its multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Washington taxpayers currently pay about $74 million to fund grants to low-income college students, many of who enroll in community colleges. About half of that money goes toward covering the cost of textbooks, according to Carlyle. Reducing the cost of materials, he argues, could free up funds to go toward improving the quality of public education itself. “It is the ultimate win-win,” says Carlyle, who criticizes textbook makers for the high costs of books: “It is an outrage that we allow this monopoly to crush common sense and to crush students’ wallets and not fight back.”

While Washington’s pilot program has received the most state funding of any project, it’s not the first project of its kind. Rice University has hosted Connexions, a vast, online database of open-source educational modules from elementary school though post-graduate level material on topics ranging from algebra to literary criticism since 1999, but this global site (which is funded by some $7 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation) can be difficult to navigate. In September 2010, the Open University of the Netherlands opened a similar database of Dutch-language educational resources for teachers, dubbed Wikiwijs, which is being funded by a $10.9 million (€8 million) grant from the Dutch Ministry of Education. Similar projects aimed at reducing the cost of textbooks are in the works in Brazil and Poland.

Perhaps the most cautionary lesson about the risks of developing open libraries of course materials comes from Utah State University, which launched a similar project in 2005 and currently offers free materials for more than 80 courses, ranging from cultural anthropology to avalanche and snow dynamics. While Utah State received $200,000 in funding from its state government, along with $400,000 from the Hewlett Foundation, it ceased developing new online course materials in 2009 due to a lack of funding. “The economy is partly to blame, and consequently the program is currently in hibernation,” explains the program’s former head, David Wiley, who is now working on a similar initiative aimed at lowering the cost of high-school course materials in Utah.

The abrupt cessation of the Utah State project serves as a warning. While recruiting teachers to create original online course materials may save schools money initially (by reducing the amount of state grant money used to foot the bill for pricey textbooks), the programs still need to make sure they are sustainable in the future. That means everything from allocating funds to update the materials to minimizing the amount of updating needed in the first place. Christopher Gildow, an art teacher at Everett Community College (just north of Seattle) who is developing the interactive materials for an art-appreciation course, says he hopes to reduce the number of dead links that accumulate on webpages over time by steering clear of dotcom websites altogether. For an image of Dorothea Lange’s iconic 1936 photo of a migrant farm worker, for example, Gildow links to a page from the Library of Congress.

The true measure of Washington State’s initiative will be how willing other teachers are to adopt the new materials created by their colleagues and whether more students pass the classes in which they are being used. The first 42 courses, which are being tested and tweaked through June, will be available to Washington State’s entire community and technical college network in the fall. “We have a big hope that faculty will be including more interactive, engaging material into their courses. We know that students who are engaged learn more,” notes Josh Jarrett of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated more than $50 million to post-secondary education in 2010. “If nobody uses them, that’s obviously not an ideal outcome,” adds Jarrett.

So far, Tacoma Community College student Jessie Sellers seems sold. “The class is actually pretty good,” he says. His one complaint: “I wanted to get a little bit ahead, but the teacher only posts things online about half a week in advance. So I have to wait.” Sounds like he’s hooked.

This article was originally posted at

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scorm Becoming Important to Higher ED

In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, SCORM’s limited value to eLearning and training has become more high profile.
The Chronicle reports:

Some higher-education leaders say a little-noticed technical note in a new $2-billion federal grant program could make it difficult for colleges to use the money to build free online course materials.

The issue centers around a single line of the 53-page grant guidelines for the program, known officially as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants Program: “All online and technology-enabled courses developed under this [program] must be compliant with the latest version of Scorm (Sharable Content Object Reference Model).”

As many of us in instructional design and eLearning know, SCORM has little to do with actual learning. Instead, SCORM represents a technical specification to help ensure that eLearning content survives different systems and upgrades. In order to take advantage of SCORM, learning has to be structured and meta-tagged appropriately so that it is retrieveable, or shareable.

The shareable factor is what I believe the government is after here. However, while much of eLearning emphasizes self-paced asynchronous training. Higher education rarely falls into this category. At the minimum, this highlights the basic difference between training and education. I believe the notion that one institution could build a SCORM-certified course and have it distributed and taught by another institution may in fact be flawed. Others may disagree with me. In either case, I would question whether the assessments are in fact aligned with the objectives and instructional methods for the content when the courses are shared. By way of the IMS GLC Public Forum, Rabel offers an extensive and deep analysis of the flaws of this thinking and follow-ups here..

Some may argue that what is being asked here is to generate generic learning content, that is content that lots of people need. Labeling content as ‘generic’ is also flawed. All learning content has a built-in theoretical perspective for how teaching and learning should occur. What SCORM most certainly fails to include is any identification of pedagogy or instructional methods. So, to believe that one faculty member’s philosophy of teaching that would be inherent to a SCORM-certified course is congruent with another faculty member’s philosophy of teaching fails to recognize the unique teaching skills of the individuals. I certainly do not assert that I could organize, teach, and assess the same course content the same way as another faculty would, which is what SCORM-compliant content would require.

What do you think? Can higher ed content be SCORMed?

This article was originally posted at

Online Learning Set for Explosive Growth as Traditional Classrooms Decline

By 2015, 25 million post-secondary students in the United States will be taking classes online. And as that happens, the number of students who take classes exclusively on physical campuses will plummet, from 14.4 million in 2010 to just 4.1 million five years later, according to a new forecast released by market research firm Ambient Insight.

Blended and Online Learning Growth
The report, "The US Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2010-2015 Forecast and Analysis," predicted a five-year compound decline of 22.08 percent per year in students attending traditional classrooms exclusively. The number of post-secondary students taking some (but not all) classes online will grow at a compound annual rate of 11.08 percent over the same five-year period, from 12.36 million in 2010 to 21.13 million in 2015. But the real growth will be seen among students taking classes exclusively online. Ambient predicted a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.06 percent in that area, from 1.37 million in 2010 to 3.86 million in 2015.

By that time, the number of students taking classes exclusively online will be nearly equal to the number taking classes exclusively on a physical campus, with a gap of just 240,000 students (a figure that represents less than 1 percent of the entire forecast post-secondary student population, including degree-granting institutions, vocational training schools, continuing education institutions, etc.)

Further, according to the report, "If this trend continues, by 2018, there will be more full time online students than students that take all their classes in a physical classroom."

Top Institutions for Online Enrollment
The report also indicated that despite the high five-year compound annual growth figures, the annual growth of full-time and part-time online enrollments at the top-10 institutions seems to have slowed in the last two years, while growth at some of the smaller institutions accelerated. The report characterized the larger institutions as "pioneers in online learning with large numbers of students" that are "approaching enrollment saturation points" and aligning with previous forecasts.

In terms of the top institutions for full-time enrollment, all of the institutions in Ambient Insight's top-5 continued to experience growth over the last two years, though that growth declined for all but one.

  • American Public Education, which continued to be the largest institution in terms of full-time enrollments, climbed 31.3 percent from 2009 to 2010 (77,700 total), compared with growth of 49.2 percent from 2008 to 2009.

  • Bridgepoint Education, in the second slot, saw the greatest growth among the top institutions in the same period, increasing 40.7 percent from 54,800 online enrollments in 2009 to 77,100 by the end of 2010. That growth, nevertheless, was a sharp dropoff from the 101 percent single-year growth experienced from 2008 to 2009.

  • At No. 3, UMassOnline grew 14.5 percent to 45,800 in 2010. The institution had experienced 18 percent growth the previous year.

  • On the heels of 17.1 percent growth from 2008 to 2009, Walden University experienced a smaller 12.6 percent growth from 2009 to 2010, climbing to 45,600 enrollments.

  • Rounding out the top-5, Liberty University was the only top institution to see increased growth in the two-year analysis. Liberty U grew 24.3 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching an enrollment level of 45,000. It had experienced significantly less growth, 15.6 percent, in the previous year.

A similar pattern emerged for the top institutions for part-time online enrollments, according to Ambient Insight. All of the institutions in the top-5 continued to experience healthy, double-digit growth from 2009 to 2010, just slightly less healthy than the growth experienced from 2008 to 2009.

  • University of Phoenix Online experienced 16.8 percent growth from 2009 to 2010, down from 22.3 percent growth the previous year. Total enrollment of students taking at least one class online in 2010 was a dominant 362,500.

  • State University of New York Learning Network saw 13.9 percent growth from 2009 to 2010, off slightly from the 17.6 percent growth experienced the previous year. Its total enrollment in 2010 was 111,400.

  • The Ohio Learning Network saw 17.9 percent growth in 2010, down from 25 percent growth from 2008 to 2009. Its 2010 online enrollment figure was 110,400.

  • Kaplan University experienced the greatest amount of growth among the top institutions at 36.4 percent from 2009 to 2010. It had experienced growth of 47 percent from 2008 to 2009. Its 2010 online enrollment figure was 75,000.

  • Finally, DeVry experienced a substantial 18.1 percent growth in 2010, off from the 26.7 percent growth it experienced in 2009. Total 2010 online enrollments were 66,500, Ambient Insight reported.

Further details about the top institutions are available in Ambient Insight's report.

The report also spotlighted some of the smaller online institutions, many of which are also experiencing double-digit growth in enrollments. Some are using partnerships with commerical suppliers to accelerate that growth further. Ambient Insight Chief Research Officer Sam S. Adkins also pointed to a creative partnership between the state of Indiana and Western Governors University.

"An interesting partnership is the deal between the state of Indiana and Western Governors University (WGU) forged in August 2010," . "WGU set up a private portal called WGU Indiana allowing Indiana to launch an online school with very little upfront capital. WGU Indiana operates at no cost to the state. The Indiana governor refers to the new online school as 'Indiana's eighth state university.' As of January 2011, enrollment had tripled to reach 800 students, mostly working adults, just six months after launch. WGU Indiana indicates they are adding 'nearly 100 new students each month.' This is a unique business model that should appeal to other states if it is successful.”

E-Learning Expenditures Booming
Adkins said that all of this growth will help propel expenditures on electronic learning products in higher education to unprecedented levels (though it won't be the only factor driving spending).

The report focused on expenditures by academic institutions, businesses, and other organizations on a category of electronic learning products that Ambient Insight refers to as "self-paced e-learning products," which includes learning management, classroom management, and learning content management systems, along with student information systems and hosted learning platforms, among others. This category does not include mobile learning, gaming, or several other major e-learning categories. (Ambient Insight's detailed methodology and category definitions can be found here.)

In higher education in the United States, according to Ambient, expenditures on these types of products will grow at a five-year CAGR of 6.7 percent, reaching $6.1 billion by 2015. Combined with K-12, academic institutions in the United States alone will account for $11 billion in expenditures in this category by 2015.

Higher education isn't the only segment experiencing growth in electronic learning expenditures. Across all industry segments, the market for these electronic learning products and services grew to $18.2 billion in the United States in 2010. That overall figure will climb to $24.2 billion in 2015, according to Ambient Insight's latest forecast--a relatively modest 5.9 percent compound annual growth comparable to that of Western Europe but lagging far behind Asia (at nearly a 30 percent five-year CAGR from 2010 to 2015), Eastern Europe (nearly 25 percent CAGR), Latin America (about 18 percent CAGR), and Africa (roughly 17 percent CAGR). Ambient said Asia's growth rate will propel it to become the second-largest consumer of these types of electronic learning products by 2015, just ahead of Western Europe and just behind North America.

Ambient Insight's latest report, "The US Market for Self-paced eLearning Products and Services: 2010-2015 Forecast and Analysis," is available now from Ambient Insight for $4,825 for an organizational site license. Further information, including a free executive summary with additional details, can be found here.

This article was originally posted at

Monday, January 24, 2011

E-Learning Trends 2011

Learning Circuits recently polled readers on how they’re using e-learning in their organizations. Here’s what they had to say.

How does your company use e-learning? (check all that apply)

Customer service training34.2%
Enterprise transformations12.7%
External customers/clients 20.3%
General business skills (leadership, sexual harassment, etc.)30.4%
IT (end user/desktop applications)39.2%
IT (network.infrastructure)12.7%
IT (programming languages)6.3%
Keeping staff up-to-date on acquisitions6.3%
Product updates and rollouts20.3%
Regulatory/compliance issues35.4%
Salesforce training20.3%
Supply chain or channel partner training5.1%
Task-specific skills 35.4%
Technical/manufacturing issues15.2%
We are in initial stages of implementing e-learning15.2%
Other (please specify)13.9%

Please describe the types of learners using e-learning applications.

Select the types of e-learning tools, functionality, and infrastructure your organization currently uses.

3D Virtual worlds6.3%
Assessment/testing tools48.8%
Audio conferencing43.8%
Audio editing/development tools26.3%
Authoring tools45.0%
Content integration tools18.8%
Learning content management systems12.5%
Learning management systems55.0%
Mobile learning8.8%
Off-the-shelf courseware/libraries26.3%
Online mentoring/coaching15.0%
Simulations/Serious games7.5%
Social networking tools13.8%
Survey generation tools20.0%
Video conferencing32.5%
Video editing/development tools21.3%
Virtual classrooms35.0%
Web conferencing40.0%
Other (please specify)5.0%

What e-learning support services does your organization provide in-house? (Select all that apply)

Size of entire training budget for company for 2010 (in dollars):

In 2010, what percentage of your training budget was used for e-learning or blended learning programs?

What concerns does your organization have about using e-learning?

What is the primary focus of your day-to-day work?

Job FocusResponse Percent
Instructional design28.8%
Curriculum development4.5%
Interface design1.5%
LMS/LCMS integration1.5%
Department/program manager28.8%
Online facilitator/instructor1.5%
Subject matter expert6.1%
Web development3.0%
Line of business/frontline manager4.5%
Other (please specify)4.5%

In what industry is your organization primarily functioning?

IndustryResponse Percent
Commercial training (classroom or online)1.5%
Computer hardware 0.0%
Computer software3.1%
Custom instructional development 3.1%
Energy and  petroleum 1.5%
Federal government 1.5%
Finance and investment management9.2%
Higher education (Universities, Colleges, and
Tech Schools)
Hospitality/food service1.5%
K-12 Education3.1%
Pharmaceuticals and biosciences3.1%
Real estate0.0%
State/local government6.2%
Systems/network integrator3.1%
Other (please specify)7.7%

Survey was conducted in November and December 2010. Results are based 348 responses.

This article was originally posted at

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Disrupting the Education Monopoly Through Digital Learning

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told ReasonTV‘s Nick Gillespie that information technology, or digital learning, can help break the education monopoly by offering quality classes to students, no matter whether they’re enrolled in a public or private school or home schooled.

Bush championed school choice as governor from 1999 to 2007 and approved a school voucher program that successfully boosted student achievement until it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2006.
Since leaving office, Bush founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education and serves as co-chair of theDigital Learning Council.

While attending the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, D.C., Bush told Gillespie that digital learning exists on the margins of education but that, “Monopolies don’t like to have direct competition.”
“Any reform that’s worth its salt right now has to recognize that we’re in a decade long flat per student spending,” Bush said. “Anything that provides higher quality at lower cost, just as it is in the real world, will have great success in education.”

Learning where you are

I shared this concept video a few months ago to illustrate just one broad aspect of mobile learning. But it has been misinterpreted by at least one administrator that I know.

The point of the video is not about knowing where you are. The point is is learning where you are and using what you (and your students) already have.

This article was originally posted at

Defining Mobile Learning Isn't Enough

In a previous post, I blogged out loud about my concern for misusing/overusing the term mobile learning, or mlearning. In fact, a recent post and nudging by Michael Barbour got me to start putting some thoughts down that I’ve been mulling over for a while. Plus, I have a very talented student right now who is working on a dissertation about mobile learning in higher education, and she has caused me to spend some sleepless nights thinking a lot about this. So, here’s a start to something that I hope will grow into more finalized. I would really like to have your thoughts about this, so please comment and ask questions.

The definitions of mobile learning that I’ve read and have found, I believe are incomplete. For example:

I particularly like the direction and indecisiveness that Dr. Traxler (e.g., 2005, 2007, 2010) puts on the difficulty in defining mobile learning in a number of his articles on defining mobile learning. Still, I think these definitions do not ask all the questions appropriate to mobile learning. I believe folks have been defining mobile learning, and trying to define a mobile learning environment.

Pushing my thinking even further, Dr. So (2010) in a presentation at the Association for Educational Communications and Technology asked me to consider the relationships among mobile learning, elearning, and distance learning. He suggested that many people would argue that mobile learning and elearning were subsets of distance learning.

However, he posited that mobile learning (and elearning for that matter) were more likely derivations of distance learning, sharing specific traits but also retaining unique characteristics.

I really liked where this line of thinking was taking me, so I began to think about what mobile learning meant for teaching and learning. In almost all of the cases I’ve read, the emphasis had been on the learner and the learning, and I like this concentration. However, I think the current definitions do not do justice to the other components in learning environments, namely the teacher, the content, and the learning system, which in this case is the mobile computing device. So, I’m being to play around with this diagram:

By looking at all of the pieces in a mobile learning environment, I think it forces us to consider theoretical foundations for practices and avenues to take advantages of the mobile computing devices. In particular, it begs the following questions:

  1. What does it mean if the teacher/trainer/facilitator is mobile?

  2. What does it mean if the device or system is mobile?

  3. What does it mean if the learner is mobile?

  4. What does it mean if the learning content is mobile?

I am planning a follow-up post about this diagram and how I think existing and future mobile teaching and learning strategies fit in. What are your thoughts so far? Please let me know.

Herrington, J., Herrington, A., Mantei, J., Olney, I. & Ferry, B. (2009). Using mobile technologies to develop new ways of teaching and learning, in J. Herrington, A. Herrington, J. Mantei, I. Olney, & B. Ferry (eds.), New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education, Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, Australia.

Mobile Learning Network (MoLeNET ). (2009). What is mobile learning? Retrieved December 30, 2009, from
Motiwalla, L.F. (2007). Mobile learning: A framework and evaluation. Computers & Education, 49, 581-596.

Quinn, C. (2000). mLearning. Mobile, Wireless, In-Your-Pocket Learning. Linezine. Fall 2000. Available at

So, S. (2010, October 27). Pedagogical and technological considerations of mobile learning. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Anaheim, CA.

Traxler, J. (2005). Defining mobile learning. IADIS International Conference Mobile Learning.

Traxler, J. (2007). Defining, discussing and evaluating mobile learning: The moving finger writes and having writ…The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 8(2). Avaiable at

Traxler, J. (2010). Distance education and mobile learning: Catching up, taking stock. Distance Education, 31(2), 129-138.

This article was originally posted at

Learning through Situated Simulations: Exploring Mobile Augmented Reality

Here's a research bulletin from the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research on learning through situated simulations.

"This ECAR research bulletin illustrates and reports on a series of experiments with situated simulations that have been tested with students in real environments in Norway, Athens, and Rome over the past couple of years. To improve your enjoyment of this bulletin, the author recommends clicking on the short video demonstrations to better understand and “see” how situated simulations work. The goal of the researchers has been to understand the extent to which mobile technologies and augmented reality used for situated simulations can improve situated learning. Situated simulations can use verbal resources in combination with 3D graphics to create a multi-modal dynamic representation that augments the real place with relevant information needed for different educational purposes. The big question is how these simulations should be composed and organized in order to improve learning. The experiments reported here are early attempts to build knowledge and experience in this exiting field."

This article was originally posted at

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Medical Transcription Services and HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. There are two facets two HIPAA and one of these affects Medical Transcription Services . The purview of HIPAA includes electronic health care transactions. According to the rules and regulations put in place by this Act, all providers of such health care transactions should maintain the national standards that have been designated for the same.

All clients using medical transcription services must achieve HIPAA compliance. This also helps ensure the privacy and security of the health data. HIPAA regulations work under pre-determined timelines, and a client needs to achieve the compliance within that time frame. Therefore, it’s important that one selects medical transcription services that are HIPAA compliant.

Good medical transcription services have a HIPAA privacy officer on their roles, who not only manages but also facilitates the HIPAA needs of the client, as well as, the organization in general. It is to be understood that all HIPAA regulations are subject to change and the fact is that these regulations have not been finalized. Therefore it’s important that a company offering medical transcription services is fully responsive towards any and every regulation of HIPAA.

This article was originally posted at

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Speech Recognition Software- Back-End SR a Better Option than Front-End SR

The latest developments in the speech recognition software have made it quite easy for the dictation provider to directly convert the spoken words into electronic text. This provides great benefit to the healthcare workers, especially the physicians. In the medical transcription process the dictation from the doctor is converted into electronic file by a medical transcriptionist. This file is sent back to the doctor who then stores it the computer for later use. This whole process takes time and there is no universal standard available in transcription industry that measures and defines a standard turnaround time, which can be used as benchmark by all the transcription service providers. TAT varies from one transcription service provider to the other.

This is the loophole in the medical transcription process which can be easily overcome by the speech recognition technology. There are two types of software available for the users and they are:

  1. Front-end Speech recognition software.

  2. Back-end speech recognition software.

The above two options have their own advantages and shortcomings. In front end SR, the physician dictates and edits the transcribed report and there is no need of medical transcriptionist or an editor. The physician finds this type of application, time consuming because of the busy schedule. In absence of transcriptionist or editor, the accuracy of the transcribed report cannot be guaranteed because the software is not completely accurate. Besides this, if the physician overlooks an error while transcribing, it will be carried forward into the treatment and can seriously affect the outcome.

In the Back-End SR or deferred SR the provider dictates into a digital dictation system. The voice file is sent along with the draft to the medical transcriptionist for editing. After editing and finalization, the report is sent back to the doctor for signing. Thus back-end voice recognition software increases the accuracy of the transcribed report by providing a quality back up in form a medical transcriptionist, who effectively filters out errors made by the physician. Most of the physicians prefer this mode of transcribing as it saves them time.

From medical transcription perspective, the health services providers find it easy and useful integrate the back end type of voice recognition technology with their transcription process. It reduces their turnaround time without compromising the prevalent accuracy level.

Speech recognition software increases the productivity of medical transcription.

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Cardiology Transcriptionist- Integrating Transcription With EMR and Speech Recognition Software

The cardiology transcriptionist converts voice file, which contains patient health information, into an electronic file. The file is encrypted and sent back safely to the physician, who then decrypts it back to the original form. The stored information can be accessed, whenever needed during the course of treatment. Transcription process takes time and the turnaround time generally varies from 4 hours to 48 hours depending upon type of medical reports and service of transcription provider.

The emergence of new applications like speech recognition software and Electronic medical record (EMR) has increased the speed and ease with which, the patient health data can be processed and stored in the computer.

Electronic Medical Record

In EMR, during the patient-doctor encounter, the clinical observations of the patient are fed into the computer by selecting the related terms from the pre-structured point-and-click template. The physician enters the appropriate clinical term from the available choices to make complete electronic record of the patient. This record can be accessed or updated by other physician during the course of treatment and thus provides great flexibility in treating the patient. EMR has inbuilt safety system, which provides medication warnings or drug allergy alerts.

One main loophole is that there is no crosschecking mechanism present in EMR, which ensures that no wrong information is entered and carried forward into treatment .This can seriously jeopardize the safety of the patient. Since the information is stored on basis of pre-structured template the output from the template is too canned and loses the individuality.

Speech Recognition Software

Speech recognition software is an excellent tool, which directly converts the spoken words into text on computer screen. Thus a physician can directly speak into the computer and see for him or herself the text on the screen. This saves times as the there is no need to send the file to the transcriptionists and this reduces the turnaround time considerably.

Shortcomings in Speech recognition Software

In spite of latest advancements is this field, the software is not completely accurate. There are errors in it and it requires human intervention to guarantee the accuracy of the final outcome. Further the software requires human training to condition it to the voice pattern and dictation style of the end user.

Cardiology Transcriptionist Bridging the Gap

The above shortcomings can be easily overcome by integrating the transcription process with EMR and speech recognition software. The Cardiology transcriptionist can work in tandem with back-end speech recognition software to edit the errors in report transcribed by the software. The voice file is sent along with electronic file to transcriptionist, who then edits it. The transcribing speed increases considerably, without compromising the accuracy of the report.

The Cardiology transcriptionist also overcomes the shortcomings of EMR. The presence of well trained transcriptionist and team of quality control department guarantees high degree of accuracy of the medical report. A pair of fresh and trained human eyes, ensure that no wrong information is fed in the electronic medical records of the patient. The transcription provides other advantage in form vivid and detailed description of the patient health which is missing in the EMR. This detailed account is necessary where the physician needs in depth knowledge about the past and present medical observations of the patient to arrive at conclusion, especially in critical and difficult cases.

Thus a Cardiology transcriptionist plays a crucial role in integration of transcription process with EMR and speech recognition software to by overriding their shortcomings. It provides the human intelligence, vigilance and instinct to successfully integrate transcription with speech recognition software and EMR.

EMR, speech recognition software and Cardiology transcription can be integrated to increase quality of Cardiac care.

About Cadioscribes

Cardioscribes is a leading provider of Cardiology medical transcription and document management systems providers in United States, based in Metro Louisville. We provide comprehensive heart health transcriptions that lead to accurate and timely diagnoses.

CardioScribes is a one-stop-shop when it comes to healthcare IT solutions and services. In addition to transcription, we provide dictation and transcription work-flow systems, software development, EMR interface with standard HL7 protocols and voice recognition integration.

For additional information, please visit

Medical Transcription: Adopting the Right Network Security Audit

The HIPAA compliance norms make it necessary for the health entities and their business associates like medical transcription company to incorporate a security audit system in the network. The purpose is to maintain vigil on the all the electronic transactions of patient health information, flowing in and out of the network. Security audit brings in accountability in the transcription process and pinpoints the offender in case of breach in privacy of patient health information.

The audit system should have features, which enable complete and constant monitoring of the computer network. It should bring to notice of network administrators, any unnatural activity so that a timely intervention can prevent hostile intrusion. If however a lapse does occur the auditors can know, how and when the event happened, and who did it. Keeping in mind the sensitive nature of patient health information, it is necessary for the medical transcription company to adopt right network security audit measures. These are mentioned below:

  • It should record time, nature and type of login. This deters hostile users like hackers and at same time keeps tabs on what type of information is accessed by the authorized user.

  • Able to provide the log off time, details of the user and type of information accessed before the log off occurred.

  • Provide detailed report on unsuccessful login, which includes the username, the number of attempts, date and time. This feedback is used to increase the vigilance and further strengthen the network.

  • Able to pinpoint the objects accessed, like a file or directory and the whether the content was read, copied, deleted or modified. It should provide a feedback on the integrity of the content so that if any changes are made, the administration knows whether these changes where legal or illegal. This is necessary as per HIPAA compliance norms.

  • Maintain complete record of the start-up and shut down time of the computer network.

  • Able to maintain complete record of both successful and unsuccessful login of authorized users like medical transcriptionists.

  • Store and protect data for a desired time limit.

  • Provide auditors easy access to the desired data.

  • Ability to monitor the message flow, in and out, of the network. The security audit should track who sent the message to whom and what was in it.

It is mandatory for medical transcription service providers to ensure HIPAA compliance of their networks; otherwise they risk severe penalties or criminal convictions. A right auditing system does round-the-clock surveillance of computer network and raises alarms against hostile intrusion. This is completely in line with HIPAA compliance norms.

The security audit protects the patient health information in the network through continuous vigilance.

About Mediscribes

Mediscribes, Inc. is one of the fastest growing transcription & document management systems providers in United States, based in Metro Louisville. Mediscribes is an ISO 9000-2001 certified company, rendering cost-effective consolidated transcription solutions to major hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities in United States. Mediscribes is the most value-providing organization in the market today with a strong presence in America and offshore locations. The firm specializes in providing highly accurate transcription adhering to ADHI guidelines in unbeatable turnaround time with robust & proven document management system as its vantage point to its esteemed clientele.

Mediscribes provides end-to-end transcription solutions as its primary offering. For our customers, we focus on dictation systems, both ASP as well as enterprise level solutions, with the help of our most valued asset ezVoiceIntelligence (ezVI), providing specialty-specific qualitative transcription along with a “whole nine yards” document management system. Mediscribes specializes in EMR data integration as well. Our data dispatch department is highly proficient in integrating transcribed reports into any type of EMR, to include GEMMS, NextGen, Allscripts, Med-Infomatix, etc. Healthcare facilities that do not have EMR get the option to use our web-based file monitoring interface called eTranscribe for global access to their data. eTranscribe has special features of E-signing, E-faxing, auto-printing, and user-friendly document search criteria.

For additional information, please visit

Dale Davidson LLC has adopted emPower eLearning Solutions? Dragon Legal Complete Training Course.

emPower - a leading provider of comprehensive Healthcare Compliance Solutions through Learning management system (LMS) has announced today that Dales Davidson LLC located in Thomasville, Georgia has adopted Dragon Legal Complete Online Training Course in order to improve their productivity in transcription process.

Dale Davidson as a practicing litigation attorney at DALE DAVIDSON, LLC was looking for technology that is easy to implement and has real utility. He adopted Dragon Naturally Speaking Legal version so that he can just speak rather than type or have some type the documentation. The concept of simply dictating to the computer to produce documents, open applications, and search the internet or my computer without using a keyboard or mouse is amazing. Mr. Davidson wanted to leverage something similar and hence he adopted Dragon Legal. However, like many others he faltered in the beginning trying to use the software and that is when he worked with emPower to get a detailed training solution for Dragon Legal. The training provided him step by step guide to use the software. The interactive videos did wonder to increase the productivity and the quizzes helped him to retain the knowledge. The power to leverage specific legal words was indeed released.

But the most important thing was it provided a solution to do work in an efficient manner conveniently.

About emPower

emPower  is a leading provider of comprehensive Healthcare Compliance Solutions through Learning Management System (LMS). Its mission is to provide innovative security solutions to enable compliance with applicable laws and regulations and maximize business performance. empower provides range of courses to manage compliance required by regulatory bodies such as OSHA, HIPAA, Joint commission and Red Flag Rule etc. Apart from this emPower also offers custom demos and tutorials for your website, business process management and software implementation.

Its Learning Management system (LMS) allows students to retrieve all the courses 24/7/365 by accessing the portal. emPower e-learning training program is an interactive mode of learning that guides students to progress at their own pace.

For additional information, please visit

Monday, January 10, 2011

Maastricht University Mobile and Laptop Survey 2010

A growing number of students and teachers possess and use laptops, smart phones or other portable communications systems for learning or working. This is the reason that Maastricht University started a project on Mobile Learning last April, in which several pilots will focus on how students and teachers can use their mobile devices for teaching and learning.

In addition to this the UM pays growing attention to education for new target groups (not attending a standard program). Teachers ask to use more flexible tools to enhance interaction between students and the teacher during face to face activities. Moreover, there is a movement to deploy (existing and new) functionality to support previously used “techniques” to support teaching and learning activities (think of concept mapping, CSCL, voting). It seems a trend to make use of mobile devices within and outside the walls of the institution.

The project focuses in 6 pilots on how mobile devices can be used to increase interaction within the education (both under-face education and online sessions) and what implications this has for teaching and learning, but also for creating a suitable infrastructure and support service. Results of the pilots and the project as a whole will be available in spring 2011.

From the sixth of October 2010 till the first of November a questionnaire was sent out to gather information about the diffusion and use of smart phones and laptop among the entire student population of Maastricht University.

Summary of survey results

52 % of the respondents own a smart phone, 48 % own a regular mobile phone. Apple is the most popular smart phone brand university wide. As an exception at FHML-Health Sciences HTC is the most popular brand. iPhone Os is the most popular smart phone platform, followed by Android and Blackberry Os.

78 % of the smart phoning owning students have a data subscription for internet access. Almost all, 95 %, have WIFI on their smart phone.

Texting and making phone calls are by far the most used features of the smart phone. Some features with potential for educational uses are also used by many smart phoning students; Internet access (91 %), e-mail (81 %), Social Networking (79 %) and Chatting (IM) (50 %). Even watching video (49 %) and Reading/editing documents (39 %) are quite popular.

94 % of the smart phone students indicate they would use university e-mail on their phone, which is already possible. It is unknown how many students already make use of the university e-mail on their smart phone. Other services that are very likely to be used are Class schedules/Time tables (81 %), EleUM Announcements (64 %) and EleUM Courses/Organizational content (57 %). Less popular but still likely to be used services include University/Events Calendar, Library – Free Computers/Workplaces and a Course Catalog.

Laptop summary
96 % of the respondents own a laptop. Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system (76 %), followed by Apple Mac Os (22 %). Firefox is the most used as a browser by the laptop owning students (42 %), followed by Google Chrome (21 %) and Internet Explorer (19 %).

76 % of the laptop owning students bring their laptops to the University. Of the students that bring their laptop 94 % make use of the wireless network. The most popular place to use the laptop is within the library (92 %). 51 % of those that bring their laptop use it in the tutorial groups.

Download report

The full report can be downloaded here

10 reasons why eLearning is essential for students!

Technology has the power to transform education. It is essential to bring it into the classroom to empower learning. Why?

1. Students need to be engaged with what they are doing to improve learning outcomes – See technology engages them.

2. Enables students to become thinkers/learners/risk takers in a sheltered environment.
3. Learn not to rely on the teacher…be accountable themselves…become independent!
4. Teaches digital literacy.
5. Valuable employable skills in a digital world are learnt –appropriate online behaviour, good digital citizenship, cybersafety, plagiarism, working with virtual teams, self discipline in a virtual world, digital and global entrepreneurship, globalization etc eg
6. Broadens the horizons of many students as it exposes students to the world outside their city or country town.
7. Fits in with Rural Education where students in small rural schools need no longer be disadvantaged by distance and isolation, as technology allows them to learn virtually and maintain their subject choices, allows eg  LOTE (languages other than English) and other specialist subjects to be taught across schools by a virtual teacher.
8. Allows a mobile learning environment – anywhere, anytime, anyhow! (SeeDoes mLearning make a difference?)
9. Inspires students to seek more from school.
10. Gets kids to go to school!

This article was originally posted at

Governors Will Guide the Shift to Digital Learning

by Tom Vander

State leadership matters in education (as mentioned in National Journal), now more than ever.

States are broke. While revenues lag, costs continue to escalate (as a result of automatic pay increases, cost of living adjustments, and public pension payments) requiring several more years of painful cutbacks. Without strong state leadership, these cuts will have a disproportionate impact on low-income students.

It’s clear that a decade of standards-based reform has fallen short of expectations. Implementing real college and career ready standards that provide smooth transition to earning college credits will be a central challenge of this decade.

The pivot to personal digital learning holds the promise of customizing and extending learning, ensuring that every student receives quality instruction, and making schools more efficient. However, the shift requires state and local leadership.

About half of the states elect a state superintendent, the other half appoint them. It’s interesting to note that in thechiefs to watch—the hard charging reformers—are all appointed.

Washington has an elected chief. This week, Gov Gregoire proposed a streamlined approach to state education administration, one that reported to her rather than the elected state superintendent.

The Seattle Times criticized it as a power grab and faulted her for not trying to incorporate ways to save some money. The Tacoma News Tribune was sympathetic to the plan
If redrawing the organizational chart promises better results, the Legislature ought to follow the results, not the entrenched interests bent on clinging to control and funding. It would arguably be better to centralize accountability in one elected official, the governor, rather spread it among six different entities, some of which answer to no one obvious.

But the Trib suggested the plan should include more aggressive reform:
We should acknowledge, for example that the trade-union model of teaching is broken and must be replaced with a professional model that links high pay to high performance. As things stand, compensation is far too often linked to factors – such as longevity, graduation from (often mediocre) education schools and the accumulation of graduate credits – that can have precious little connection to success in the classroom. Seniority, not effectiveness, typically dictates job security and pay.

Efforts to construct a new employment bargain cost political capital and sometimes fail to win expected benefits (like Colorado and Louisiana’s thoughtful reforms that failed to win them a big RttT grant). Illinois is the latest state attempting to link teacher tenure to results.

Washington State will never lead on education employment reform, but we should be a leader in education technology. The state was an early pioneer in online learning and is well positioned to be a leader in blended learning—school models that incorporate online learning in order to improve learning and operating productivity.

Gov. Gregoire may not win the right to impose and educzar, but she could host a one day working session with key stakeholders and policy makers that could result in a blended learning framework that could save the state hundreds of millions.

State leadership matters. Governors will play a critical role in orchestrating economic recovery and education reform by advancing idea economy and personal digital learning.

This article was originally posted at

Friday, January 7, 2011

Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad


As students returned to class this week, some were carrying brand-new Apple iPads in their backpacks, given not by their parents but by their schools.

A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.

As part of a pilot program, Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.

The iPads cost $750 apiece, and they are to be used in class and at home during the school year to replace textbooks, allow students to correspond with teachers and turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of student work in digital portfolios.

“It allows us to extend the classroom beyond these four walls,” said Larry Reiff, an English teacher at Roslyn who now posts all his course materials online.

Technological fads have come and gone in schools, and other experiments meant to rev up the educational experience for children raised on video games and YouTube have had mixed results. Educators, for instance, are still divided over whether initiatives to give every student a laptop have made a difference academically.

At a time when school districts are trying to get their budgets approved so they do not have to lay off teachers or cut programs, spending money on tablet computers may seem like an extravagance.

And some parents and scholars have raised concerns that schools are rushing to invest in them before their educational value has been proved by research.

“There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” said Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, who believes that the money would be better spent to recruit, train and retain teachers. “IPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning.”

But school leaders say the iPad is not just a cool new toy but rather a powerful and versatile tool with a multitude of applications, including thousands with educational uses.

“If there isn’t an app that does something I need, there will be sooner or later,” said Mr. Reiff, who said he now used an application that includes all of Shakespeare’s plays.

Educators also laud the iPad’s physical attributes, including its large touch screen (about 9.7 inches) and flat design, which allows students to maintain eye contact with their teachers. And students like its light weight, which offers a relief from the heavy books that weigh down their backpacks.

Roslyn administrators also said their adoption of the iPad, for which the district paid $56,250 for the initial 75 (32-gigabyte, with case and stylus), was advancing its effort to go paperless and cut spending. In Millburn, N.J., students at South Mountain Elementary School have used two iPads purchased by the parent-teacher organization to play math games, study world maps and read “Winnie the Pooh.” Scott Wolfe, the principal, said he hoped to secure 20 more iPads next school year to run apps that, for instance, simulate a piano keyboard on the screen or display constellations based on a viewer’s location.

“I think this could very well be the biggest thing to hit school technology since the overhead projector,” Mr. Wolfe said.

The New York City public schools have ordered more than 2,000 iPads, for $1.3 million; 300 went to Kingsbridge International High School in the Bronx, or enough for all 23 teachers and half of the students to use at the same time.

More than 200 Chicago public schools applied for 23 district-financed iPad grants totaling $450,000. The Virginia Department of Education is overseeing a $150,000 iPad initiative that has replaced history and Advanced Placement biology textbooks at 11 schools. And six middle schools in four California cities (San Francisco, Long Beach, Fresno and Riverside) are teaching the first iPad-only algebra course, developed by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Even kindergartners are getting their hands on iPads. Pinnacle Peak School in Scottsdale, Ariz., converted an empty classroom into a lab with 36 iPads — named the iMaginarium — that has become the centerpiece of the school because, as the principal put it, “of all the devices out there, the iPad has the most star power with kids.”

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="190" caption="Kaitlyn Zmek, left, and Madison Justice, both sixth graders, using an iPad at Pinnacle Peak Elementary School in Scottsdale, Ariz. The school has an iPad lab. "][/caption]

Indeed, many of the districts are paying for their iPads through federal and other grants, including money from the federal Race to the Top competitive grant program, which administrators in Durham, N.C., are using to provide an iPad to every teacher and student at two low-performing schools.

“You can do everything that the iPad can with existing off-the-shelf technology and hardware for probably $300 to $400 less per device,” Professor Soloway said.

Apple has sold more than 7.5 million iPads since April, the company reported, but it is not known how many went to schools.

The company has been developing a school market for the iPad by working with textbook publishers on instructional programs and sponsoring iPad workshops for administrators and teachers. It does not, however, appear to have marketed the tablet as aggressively to schools as it did its early desktop computers, some of which were heavily discounted for schools and helped establish a generation of Apple users. School officials say that Apple has been offering only a standard educational discount of about 10 percent on the iPad.

About 5,400 educational applications are available specifically for the iPad, of which nearly 1,000 can be downloaded free.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which developed the iPad algebra program in California, said it planned to compare the test scores of students using a textbook in digital and traditional book formats. The iPad version offers video of the author solving equations, and individualized assessments and practice problems.

Many school officials say they have been waiting for technology like the iPad.

“It has brought individual technology into the classroom without changing the classroom atmosphere,” said Alex Curtis, headmaster of the private Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey, which bought 60 iPads for $36,000 and is considering providing iPads to all students next fall.

Dr. Curtis recently used a $1.99 application, ColorSplash, which removes or adds color to pictures, to demonstrate the importance of color in a Caravaggio painting in his seminar on Baroque art. “Traditionally, so much of art history is slides on a screen,” he said. “When they were able to manipulate the image themselves, it came alive.”

Daniel Brenner, the Roslyn superintendent, said the iPads would also save money in the long run by reducing printing and textbook costs; the estimated savings in the two iPad classes are $7,200 a year.

“It’s not about a cool application,” Dr. Brenner said. “We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom.”

This article was originally posted at

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Schools test iPads in classrooms

By Bruce Newma

Before, during and even between classes at Hillbrook School this fall, seventh-graders have been spotted on the Los Gatos, Calif., campus, sometimes burbling Spanish or Mandarin phrases into the glowing screen in their hands, other times staring into it like a looking glass.

iPads — the Apple of almost every adolescent's eye — are being provided to students at several Bay Area public and private schools this year, including Hillbrook, which claims to be the only K-8 school in America using tablet computers in class and sending them home. This has led to a lot of 12-year-olds swanning around the wooded hillside campus, talking to their iPads.

Summoning up a virtual keyboard recently, Sophie Greene quickly typed a note to herself in iCal, a calendar program, then played back an audio file in which she was speaking Spanish. "We record a conversation, e-mail it to our teacher, Senorita Kelly," she explained, "then she critiques the lesson in Spanish and sends that back to us."

For the 28 seventh-graders entrusted with iPads at Hillbrook, the pictures that flash across the device's screen open a window to a wider world. The iPad allows them to take daily excursions across time and space to such exotic ports as ancient Mesopotamia and modern China.

The only drawback is that with their assignments all composed on iPads, the one excuse that no longer works for Hillbrook's seventh-graders is, "The dog ate my homework."

At Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose — which introduced 32 iPads into the classroom this fall — the devices are used only in class. And Stanford's School of Medicine gave 92 iPads outright to its first-year students this September. At Hillbrook, which received its iPads last summer as a gift from the parents of two students, seventh-graders like Sophie slip the handheld devices into backpacks at the end of the school day. Hillbrook's program has been such a hit that it will be expanded next year to include eighth-graders.

As the high-tech tablets complete the first phase of these academic tests, the future of the iPad as an educational tool is raising questions about whether the most plugged-in technology will be remain the exclusive digital domain of the wealthiest schools.

With studies about the value of computers in the classroom indicating that results are "all over the map," according to one local educator, low-income schools aren't even sure what they might be missing.

"The achievement gap is alive and well," said Judith McGarry, Rocketship Education's director of development. "Private schools and very wealthy public school districts are absolutely going to have all sorts of resources to throw at their kids. We believe that in our society, all children need to be technologically literate."

Rocketship, the award-winning nonprofit charter school network with three San Jose schools, recently declined a donation of iPads from two large Silicon Valley companies, preferring to wait until more textbooks are published digitally.

Woodside High School recently acquired about 25 iPads for Mandarin language classes, but quickly reassigned a handful for Aaron Blanding's special ed classes for students with orthopedic impairments. "It's maybe not as important academically," Blanding said, "but our kids like that when they take them into general education classes, they hear the other kids talking about how cool they are."

Hillbrook English teacher Tom Bonoma hopes he never has to go back to teaching the old way.

"The iPad has really been a game-changer," he said. "It allows us to do a lot of things in real time that weren't possible before." During a class discussion of "A Raisin in the Sun," a play about a struggling black family set in post-war Chicago, students used Animation Creator HDto record their interpretations of a scene. "It puts the sugar in the medicine of taking notes," Bonoma said. "They suddenly look forward to doing that because they get to interact with this gadget."

Apple essentially had cornered the consumer tablet market when administrators at Hillbrook, Mitty, University High School in San Francisco and San Domenico in Marin were considering the iPad last summer as an educational implement.

"It seemed clear to us that it's a revolutionary kind of tool," said Brent Hinrichs, Hillbrook's head of middle school. "It gets everyone involved all the time. That interaction is critical in having them think and experience every moment that they're in the classroom."

Revolutionary or not, using it as an educational tool was so untested that "tech mentor" Elise Marinkovich had to configure the iPads herself. Trying to figure out how to block Facebook, and to install the kid-friendly browser from Mobicip, she made countless visits to the Genius Bar at the Los Gatos Apple store. All the effort paid off.

During a recent Hillbrook history class, students fetched files on the achievements of ancient Mesopotamians, wrote several paragraphs about them on the Pages app, inserted photographs from Geo Photo Explorer, then e-mailed their work to teacher Christina Pak. She projected results onto an interactive "smart board" for discussion. You can almost imagine Elroy Jetson asking her a question by instant message.

So far, only one of the $500 tablets has been damaged badly enough to require repair. "It's an educational tool," said Marinkovich, who was thrilled when head of school Mark Silver decided the kids should be trusted to take their iPads home. "If we just stop it at school, how is that helping them?"

Mitty administrators weren't ready to make that leap, although the school may loosen its policy next year. "The interface is very open and collaborative, and I think it fosters a lot of independent inquiry and research," said Lisa Brunolli, an assistant principal in charge of the school's test program. "But it quickly became frustrating that students couldn't take them home and use them for homework."

Rocketship's schools don't use computers of any kind in the classroom, believing them to be a distraction from "the social learning experience," according to McGarry. But they do promote online literacy with computer labs, and are conducting research of their own on whether computers are a help or a hindrance to learning. "We think they're helping," McGarry says.

Books for the current school year had already been purchased when iPads were added to backpacks at schools where tablets are being tried out. Educators cling to the hope that they will be able to buy selected chapters of textbooks for use on the tablets, the way music fans pick individual songs on iTunes.

That would suit Sophie just fine. "In sixth grade my backpack was 27 pounds," she said. "Ohhhh, my back! It was so sore. This would definitely lighten it. And it would be way more eco-friendly."

Spoken like a true iKid.

This article was originally posted at

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Online learning in 2011

As the new year takes off with a flying start, this is a great time to look forward to what's in store for online learning and learners in 2011.

2010 saw the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) become the second largest in the country, second only to Florida's Virtual Public School program. Many North Carolina school districts are finding it more economical and efficient to pay the NCVPS rate of $600/per student per class rather than hiring teachers for courses that fall outside the standard curriculum but remain crucial to providing NC students with a quality, well-rounded education.

NCVPS will continue to grow in 2011 as NC school districts deal with a new round of budget cuts, and a increasingly diverse and demanding student population that expects all schools to offer high quality courses in a variety of subjects.

Educational applications for smartphones like the BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone (and associated products) will continue to grow in number and variety. Look for more foreign language apps, more apps aimed at all ages (especially younger users), and more apps aimed at learning specific skills "in time". Learning available when you need it.

Beware though of "in app purchases" which can cost substantial amounts of real world money. See: Smurf app fees leave parents steaming. While children become more and more tech savvy, parents still need to be aware of exactly what their children are doing online. A lapse in a attention can cost parents a lot of money.

Free or low cost online learning options will continue to increase. In October iTunes U started offering e-books to support lectures  and other resources from Oxford, Rice and the Open University. The Khan Academy continues to bring subjects as diverse as molecular biology and high finance to online learners for free. Khan Academy tutorials run the gamut from elementary school math topics to graduate level economics. Making it a great resource for parents and students.

Perhaps, most important for online learners and online learning providers, consumers will continue to become more knowledgable about accreditation and diploma mills . Information is power and in this case it will empower learners to make informed educational choices, which will improve consumer satisfaction with online education and the quality of online higher education offerings.

The future of online learning is bright and 2011 is sure to bring the changes listed here and many more. Find an online learning option that intrigues you and meets your needs and give it a try.

This article was originally posted at

Six Creative Ways: Students + Tech = Contributors to Society
"If our children are to grow up to make important contributions to our society, it is essential that we provide them with powerful tools and experiences across the curriculum. This will require a new culture of teaching and learning that engages students as contributors."

The Six Creative Ways Our Students Can Make Valuable Contributions

To Their Learning Community
Plus Resources and Ideas for Teachers

By Alan November

Years ago, when farms dominated our landscape, children were responsible for performing meaningful jobs that were vital to each family's success. Depending on their age, children would care for animals, repair farm equipment, prepare food to sell at local markets and more. Children were essential to the very survival of the family. At the same time, these jobs taught children the value of hard work, leading them to become more productive citizens within their communities as adults.

As mechanized tools and other advances developed, the work of children was replaced. To prepare for the industrial economy, students were required to attend school where teachers became central figures and where children took on more passive roles within their communities. The contributions made by children to their community shifted to the responsibility of completing schoolwork. This continuing trend contradicts a fundamental human need that draws us to make contributions to our communities.

We have come full circle as globalization quickly becomes the norm, and it may now be essential for our students to compete with peers from around the world. Today, we can restore the dignity and integrity of the child as a contributor. Across the country, pioneering teachers are providing students with new roles that have students making contributions to their learning communities. We have powerful, easy-to-use tools such as screencasting and podcasting that give students opportunities to contribute content to the class. At the same time we can also provide them with rigorous and more motivating assignments and better prepare them to become more productive in our new global economy. It's an exciting time.

The six jobs described below outline creative ways that our students can make valuable contributions to their learning community. While these jobs can be successfully implemented individually, it is bringing them together in harmony where we can create a more balanced vision of teaching and learning.
" . . .If we do not teach students social responsibility and ethics,
then our worst fears of children abusing these tools will come true."

Tutorial Designers
Students from Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California have energized their school through the use of screencasted tutorials. Started through the leadership of their teacher, Eric Marcos, these kids have begun documenting their learning by recording themselves solving problems based on material discussed in class.

Eric has been using Camtasia with his class to allow students to record the actions being performed on their computer screens while also recording their explanations about how to solve each problem. When completed, these movies are uploaded and become part of an online database that Mr. Marcos' students as well as anyone else around the world can access at any time. Another option by TechSmith that is free and equally as powerful is Jing. With this software, and a single click of the mouse, students can begin recording their work easily and at any time.

Mr. Marcos has found this task to be so motivating that he has worked to build a new YouTube like Web site,, that he and the rest of his school's math department uses to share the growing number of screencasts that students are creating. He has found that allowing students to create material for this site increases engagement and provides struggling students with more opportunities for reviewing troubling concepts.

Official Scribes
Do all of your students take excellent notes everyday? What if there were online collaboration tools that would give your class the opportunity to collaboratively build one set of perfect notes? Using a shared blog, wiki or another collaborative writing tool like Google Docs, students can share this responsibility and create a detailed set of notes that can be used by the entire class.

Darren Kuropatwa, a high-school calculus teacher, has transformed his classroom from individual students working on "their stuff" to a collaborative learning community. His "scribe of the day" program, A Difference, has been a great success. Each day, a new student is responsible for taking notes and collecting diagrams that become part of his class' online calculus textbook.

Darren has found success with this program as students who never took notes in the past are now doing so knowing that peers are dependent on what is published on the class blog. At the same time, students who struggle to take good notes are getting better as they see constant high-quality models being posted from others.

Many classrooms have one computer sitting in the back that gets very little use. What if that computer became the official research station where one student each day was responsible for finding answers to all the questions in class -- including the teacher's?

This might not sound imaginative, but doing this can be very effective. Each day, assign a different student to sit by that computer. When questions come up during class, it is that student's responsibility to search out the correct answer. Once sites are found that give details about the questions being asked, you might consider adding it to your own search engine built using Google's Custom Search Engine creator. This search engine can be designed to meet standards, coordinate with your curriculum and consist of sites from reputable resources. Imagine creating a Global Warming Search Engine that cuts through the hype on both sides of the issue and only accesses factual information from NASA, NOAA and other scientific research organizations.

Don't expect this to work easily right from the beginning. Most educators know that there is a great amount of misinformation online and also acknowledge that students don't always use the most effective search techniques. Understanding this makes this student job that much more important. We should be providing students with guided opportunities and teachable moments that allow them to practice and hone their research skills.

Collaboration Coordinators
It wasn't that long ago when it was cost prohibitive to have your class connect with other classes and subject experts around the world. That time is gone! In an ever-shrinking world, we now have free access to make these very connections.

Using Skype, a collaboration team could be responsible for establishing and maintaining working relationships via the Internet with classrooms around the world. How can you leverage that power? Prior to a discussion of the American Revolution, charge your collaboration team with the responsibility of finding a class of British students who would be willing to interact with theirs concerning the issues that led to the start of the War. How many eyes do you think would be opened by the differing views that occur during the debate?

Connections can also be established with experts who might be willing to talk to your students regarding other meaningful topics. For example, middle school students from one Chicago suburb were learning about the effects of globalization. Their teacher, Andrea Trudeau, could have only provided students with a short passage from a textbook or a few magazine articles. Instead, she facilitated a project that had her students creating interview questions for an American factory owner who felt he had to outsource his production to China as well as a businessman in China (link here) who was managing a factory for the American market. The questions the students developed became a part of a series of interviews that were recorded and provided students with a learning experience that went far beyond any textbook or article. This project attracted a global audience, including a teacher in the UK who re-purposed this material with his class as they were discussing similar issues.

There are hundreds of other opportunities like this waiting for any adventurous group of students looking for opportunities to bring the world into the classroom.

Contributing to Society
It's almost impossible to watch TV or listen to the radio today without hearing about issues concerning various countries from around the world. While they do seem distant, these issues are important, and we can use them to teach students about social justice and empathy.

Kiva is one of today's most important social responsibility Web sites. This site opens the doors of learning and gives students the opportunity to make a small but meaningful difference in the lives of others. Through this site, your class can join others in making small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries who are trying to make better lives for themselves and their families. These loans are repaid over time as students are kept up to date on the successes and struggles of those whom they have invested contributions.

You might consider pulling together a team who searches out investments the class finds important and relates to their current studies. They might organize snack sales or penny drives while educating other classes about their mission. This team then works with the research team to investigate what is happening in these other parts of the world. They might work with the collaboration coordinators to find experts whom they can talk to about how loans work. The learning cycle can go on and on as loans are repaid and reinvested. Your students can be tracking the results of their micro-investments long after the school year has ended.

Curriculum Reviewers
As the resources above come together, the curriculum review team jumps into action to create material that can be used for continuous review. This team combines visual and audio components into podcasts that can be posted online for individuals to download into their mp3 players.

Bob Sprankle and his class, from Wells Elementary School, are quite well known for doing exactly this. Their Room 208 Podcast burst onto the scene several years ago and provided classes with a fantastic model that can be duplicated by others. Weekly, during their snack time, Mr. Sprankle's students organized, recorded and edited their podcasts before publishing them to a global audience.

If you plan to attempt this, you may want to get your school to purchase a few generic mp3 players that can be used by students who might not have their own. These devices can be loaded up at school with podcasts that cover multiple courses, and the material on these players can be accessed anywhere, at any time.
"Now is the time to take elements of these tools and provide students with the appropriate role models of how to use them to make important and rigorous contributions to their own school and beyond."

In some ways, the idea of the digital farm and the jobs outlined above is counter to the current policies of many schools where community tools are routinely blocked on the network. The opportunity before us is much too valuable for this to continue. If our children are to grow up to make important contributions to our society, it is essential that we provide them with powerful tools and experiences across the curriculum. This will require a new culture of teaching and learning that engages students as contributors. Our students have already chosen tools such as My Space and Facebook for their own communications and social interaction. Now is the time to take elements of these tools and provide students with the appropriate role models of how to use them to make important and rigorous contributions to their own school and beyond. If we do not teach students social responsibility and ethics, then our worst fears of children abusing these tools will come true.

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