Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fostering global discourse: it's time to embrace distance learning

unwelcome mat Is it time traditional higher education welcomed and developed distance learning courses? Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

Many people in higher education think of distance learning the same way one would a distant cousin: aware of its existence, perhaps even thinks well of them, but reluctant to pick up the phone and find out how they are doing. And like the cousin you don't know well, the justification for your lack of interest is that distance learning is just a little bit awkward.

Distance learning is reputedly characterised by clunky online interfaces, isolation and generally conspiring to make students – and staff – miss out on so many of the things that make university life so attractive: daily interaction with people who think like we do. We imagine it to be just a depleted version of the 'real thing'.

But in the same way that reconnecting with a distant relative can teach you things about yourself that daily interaction with your closest friends can't, distance learning has things to offer that are difficult to find in a traditional university course. An good example of this is its capacity to instantly connect to people from all over the world. At the Centre for Alternative Technology, we run a range of specialist renewable energy and sustainable architecture masters degrees. Our distance learning course has enabled us to create a course that gives sustainability a global perspective.

A distance learning course puts students into a classroom that spans the whole world. It means the range of perspectives that are brought into that classroom are more diverse than any other method of learning. For a course based on sustainability this is crucial. Sustainability shouldn't be taught as an abstract theory amongst a group of people that all basically come from the same background, it should be taught as a discourse amongst people with diverse experiences of its practical application. Many other fields would benefit from similar thinking.

Of course, all university courses will have some international dimension to their intake. But the barriers of increasingly restrictive visa regulations and high cost mean that, in reality, physically attending a course in the UK is becoming increasingly difficult for many overseas students. Academic discourse will suffer if we can't find alternative models, such as distance learning, for bringing students together.

Without a doubt there are features of attending university that distance learning courses will never be able to emulate. I've spoken to students on residential degrees at the Centre for Alternative Technology who say they learn as much from chatting to lecturers or other students in the tea breaks as they do from the lectures. Earl Wilson's quip: "Science may never come up with a better office communication system than the coffee break", rings true. Still, there are also unique benefits to joining the online classroom that can never be found in a traditional university course.

If the benefits of higher education rest on the personal connections that students aspire to make, then we must ask what experiences are of value – if students just want to meet other people their own age to go out drinking with on a Friday night then sure, that is not what a distance learning course offers. If, however, students are looking to be part of seminars with people with a genuine plethora of life experiences, this is the extra element that a distance learning course can offer.

Distance learning doesn't create distances between people, it bridges the distances that already exist and connects diverse people. And the tools are improving to help universities do this better. So rather than simply acknowledge that distance learning exists in a universe far removed from the traditional university campus, it might be time to get to know this 'distant cousin' and learn what it has to add to the strength, and diversity, of UK HE.

Kit Jones is media officer at the Centre for Alternative Technology

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Monday, September 24, 2012

ScienceWiz makes learning fun for kids

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- Many scientists will tell you we are learning so much so fast that we have entered a "golden age of knowledge." But, many among us are scientifically illiterate, and even basic science is stuff we've either forgotten or never learned. One woman, however, is hoping to change all that.

Dr. Penny Norman is the mastermind behind ScienceWiz, a company that teaches science through kits and games. While she always planned on being a scientist, and earned a PhD in biophysics, it actually led her down a different path.

It's a full time job split between designing and manufacturing. Right now her husband is in China, working out the kinks on a new project called "cool circuits." Penny says it's basically a puzzle triggering a positive reinforcement.

Penny published her first kit back in 1995. And though it sold millions of copies, she says making money was never her primary goal. She just wants to make science fun and user-friendly. Each of her kits comes with a book and links to a website that anyone can use, whether they buy or not.

This approachability to science does not come about by accident. It begins in her living room with a friend, Ann Einstein, who is a distant relative to famous scientist Albert Einstein. The women met years ago when Ann ran a preschool where Penny had enrolled her daughter, "And she said, are you doing enough science?" Ann said. "And I said, well I'd love to do more science, but when you get science things, they never work."

Well, they work now in Penny's hands-on kits that show kids how to use batteries to power electric motors, or drop pumice into water to see one kind of rock that can float, or they drop alka seltzer tablets into oil and water to simulate the forces that move Earth's tectonic plates.

When it comes to science, mankind has learned quite a lot. Well, some of mankind, anyway. As for the rest of us, don't blame Dr. Penny Norman.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Report: Oyster farm review lacks scientific support

National Park Service sign Questions are being raised about whether the National Park Service did enough research before trying to shut down an oyster farm. (KGO Photo)

POINT REYES, Calif. (KGO) -- A new scientific review is raising questions about whether the National Park Service did enough research before trying to shut down an oyster farm.

The battle is over the Drake's Bay Oyster Company in the Point Reyes national seashore. The park service has claimed the farm is harming the environment and wants it closed.

But the National Academy of Sciences has found that the park service's environmental review "lacks strong scientific support" because there wasn't enough data available. The academy also said the park service research was so deficient that it was "similar to estimating rainfall for an entire year when the rainfall records are only available for March."

When contacted by ABC7 News for a response, National Park Service Assistant Regional Director Stephanie Burkhart issued a statement saying, "We welcome the input and will consider the academy's recommendations in its final environmental review." (Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Voyager lifted off 35 years ago

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Space geeks will recognize this day as being one of those obscure, but fascinating anniversaries. Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. launched the first of the Voyager spacecraft, so ABC7 News revisited its significance in this decade.

There may be few experiences more mysterious and alluring than walking along a shoreline and stumbling upon an ancient message in a bottle -- something cast intentionally, that traveled a long way for a long time, delivered by fate.

Now imagine it on a cosmic scale, because 35 years ago mankind sent two such identical messages aboard the Voyager spacecraft. Their missions are to explore the outer planets and moons of our solar system. Both sent back images and data that we still study, today. By 1990, Voyager I had traveled four billion miles -- so far that it could fit all of our entire solar system into one photograph.

As astronomer Carl Sagan showed us back then, a photo of Jupiter, Saturn, and a speck almost invisible in a lens flare. He said the speck was, "This is where we live... on a blue dot. That's where everyone you know and everyone you ever heard of, and every human being ever lived, lived out their lives."

The Voyagers will likely to be the farthest flung, longest existing objects ever made by man. Their destiny is to travel for all eternity between the stars, which leads to a question: what if someone found them? The answer is the Voyager golden records.

"The idea behind the Voyager record was to put an artifact on the spacecraft that would tell more about us than could be deduced by looking at the spacecraft itself," said science writer Timothy Ferris of San Francisco.

Ferris has written a dozen books and countless articles, but back in the 1970's he worked with Sagan in producing the records for those spacecraft.

"The only record I ever produced was the Voyager interstellar record. Only two copies of it were made and they were both flung entirely out of the solar system," said Ferris.

The Golden Records look like any other LP, except that they're etched in copper and plated in gold. The packages contain a stylus and basic instructions that a space-faring civilization ought be able to decode. Then they get really interesting.

"If you came upon an artifact that included photographs, voices, music, sent by beings, who perhaps lived a long time ago on another planet, about whom you had no prior knowledge, wouldn't you be fascinated by that?" said Ferris.

The records includes greeting in every language and music ranging from Chuck Berry to the classics. They have images of our planet, our biology, our everyday life. They are time capsules of humanity through the 1970s. As simple as messages in a bottles.

"When I was a boy in Florida, I actually once came upon a bottle with a note in it and this is the same thing, except that instead of being in the ocean, it is thrown out into the depths interstellar space," said Ferris.

There are two spacecraft on an anniversary drifting. The odds that they'll be discovered... infinitesimally small... but there's always a chance.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Jack's Camp helps kids with life-threatening illnesses

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- A child who's diagnosed with a life-threatening illness really means the entire family is affected for a very long time and they need a lot of support. There is a place where families can get that support for free in a fun and relaxing environment in the East Bay thanks to the Taylor Family Foundation.

Every birthday is important to children, especially if they have a life-threatening illness. At Camp Arroyo in Livermore, they get to celebrate with their families and new friends. The Taylor Family Foundation provides "Jack's Camp" for free, for children diagnosed with brain tumors.

One camper, asked who in his family had brain cancer said, "It was my sister and we tried different things for it. It just shrunk and then it grew and shrunk and grew," one boy told ABC7 News.

"It was my brother," one girl said. "Now he has a little bit of a problem with hearing and his brain doesn't work as well, but we're happy he survived."

"The first time I think I came to camp, I met somebody that had the same brain tumor as me. And my brain tumor is pretty rare. So, that was really cool," another young woman said.

The retreats offered by the Taylor Family Foundation provide such a crucial level of support for the families who are stressed out by their child's illness. "We first came to camp right before Ashley's second surgery and we didn't really know anybody who was going through what we were going through," recalled Ashley Avery's father Bryan.

Camp Director Mike Kornbluth runs the support group for the adults where they talk about the child's illness having a ripple effect on the whole family. "It's the sibling maybe being left with family members while parents are spending time at the hospital. It's the financial stress because parents want to be with their child and not be able to be at their jobs, and they lose their jobs because of it," he said.

Jack's Camp is deeply personal. Melissa Phillip's son Riktor wasn't even three when he was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors. Plus, she had a new baby. Melissa is Cheryl Jennings' niece. "I feel like it's healing when you get to tell your story to somebody who really understands, who doesn't just want the short one-minute version where it has a happy ending. They want to know the details," Melissa said.

Mitch Turner's son Aiden, was diagnosed when he was 4-years-old. His baby brother celebrated his first birthday while Aiden was recovering from brain surgery. "It was really difficult for me, the first camp, listening to all the stories and I think, 'I can't do this anymore. I can't come back.' But just seeing how much fun and the joy that Aiden has when he comes here and the friends that he has, I can't deny him that," Mitch said. Mitch and Cheryl Jennings work together at ABC7 News.

The Taylor Family Foundation was created by Barry and Elaine Taylor. She is related to Jack, of Jack's Camp. Jack was diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of 24 and sadly, he did not survive. But he won't be forgotten, thanks to the camp that's named after him. "I always say there, for the love of Jack, these families are together and have the support they never had," Eliane told ABC7 News. And, the children who survive their tumors honor Jack's memory every time they come and enjoy camp.

"I think it's really great to have your family right here and it's just great to get away from your house and your TV," Riktor said.

"This place is a wonderful place for everyone with brain tumors and families just to come here and play and have fun," camper Tony Cattolica said.

(Copyright ©2012 KGO-TV/DT.

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HHS opens innovators program to public voting

For the first time, the public can vote on their favorite innovation from among the finalists of the HHSinnovates Program, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced this past Friday.

Launched in the spring of 2010 as part of HHS’s open government efforts, HHSinnovates is meant to recognize innovative projects from HHS employees aimed at helping solve thorny healthcare challenges.

“The HHSinnovates Program recognizes and rewards good ideas and facilitates the exchange of innovations throughout the Department and beyond,” said Secretary Sebelius. “Innovative ideas and practices aren’t restricted to the private sector: government workers are developing new ideas and facilitating connections to improve the way government works and improve the health of all Americans.”

Twice a year, HHS employees are invited to submit their innovations, and the top picks are posted for secure, online voting by the entire HHS community. Six finalists are chosen and publicly announced. The Secretary then selects her top picks.

Now, for the first time, the public will pick the “People’s Choice” winner. In the program’s fifth round, the public is invited to choose from among six finalists. They come from 60 total submissions from across HHS, officials say, noting that each embodies an innovative spirit, and is scalable and replicable:

The 100K Pathogen Genome Project. This collaborative project, originating from the Food and Drug Administration, academia, and industry partners, aims to sequence the genetic codes (genome) of 100,000 strains of important food pathogens (tiny organisms that cause food-borne illnesses – bacteria, viruses and others) and make them available in a free and public database at the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Biotechnology Information.  Open access to sequences allows researchers to develop tests that can identify bacteria present in a food within a matter of hours or days, significantly faster than the two weeks it now takes to grow and analyze bacterial cultures conventionallyNational Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Exchange. NIH’s NIAID developed an internal supply exchange for their institute called "NIAID Exchange" to help increase the speed and efficiency of government.  They developed a user-friendly Web resource where staff can advertise existing government-owned scientific and office equipment and supplies they no longer need and search for available items advertised by other staff members.  The NIAID program has saved over $30,000 since its release to the institute last January.Online Food Handler Training Project. The Albuquerque Area Indian Health Service (IHS) led the development of an online food handler certification program that trains an average of 3,500 food handlers a year in class room food handler trainings, while compensating for a 20 percent reduction in staff.  This novel training program, which was developed in collaboration with local partners, incorporates the principles of adult learning and story-telling in a way that is culturally sensitive and resonates with tribal customers.  The training is available to the public on the IHS website, and numerous people from across the country has registered and initiated the training.Development and Use of Coal Dust Explosibility Meter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in association with industry and commercial partners developed a coal dust meter that gives users real-time feedback on environmental conditions – a significant improvement over the lengthy measurement procedure currently employed.  This tool, which gives immediate results, represents an improved means for underground coal miners and coal mine operators to assess the relative hazard of dust accumulations in their mines.  To date, more than 200 of these devices have been sold and are being deployed in mines across the United States.National Health Service Corps Jobs Center. Many underserved communities remain underserved because it is very difficult to recruit physicians to high-need areas; in some instances it can take up to two years and $60,000.  To help improve this process, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Health Service Corps established the NHSC Jobs Center, an online employment site connecting thousands of job-seeking medical professionals, doctors, nurses, dentists, and mental health providers in primary care disciplines to thousands of employers in underserved communities throughout the United States and U.S. territories.National Institute of Health Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools. The National Institute of Health developed a Research Health Portfolio Online Reporting Tool (RePORT) that serves as a one-stop shop to provide the public with an interactive suite of tools to search NIH-funded research and the work of its investigators.  By providing the scientific community with better tools to explore the portfolio of NIH-funded research, RePORT furthers progress to foster fundamental creative discoveries, innovative research strategies, and their applications.

Public voting is open until Sept. 14, 2012. Winners will be announced on Sept. 24. To learn more, visit the HHSinnovates website.

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In Arkansas, building an HIE from scratch

Ray Scott was pretty much ready to retire when Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe asked to him to work as a consultant in the state’s health IT office. With Arkansas lagging in electronic health record use and also ranking as one of the poorest, sickest and most obesity-plagued states, Beebe, a Democrat, was trying to improve and modernize the state’s health system, and wanted Scott to help craft an application for the ONC’s HITECH Act grant to build a statewide health information exchange.

“He said, ‘We only need you for 90 days,’” recalled Scott, a veteran Arkansas politico and bureaucrat who’s worked for seven governors, including Bill Clinton and Mike Huckabee, and most recently was head of the state’s health agency. “I tried to convince him that I wasn’t the guy.”

Scott then became Arkansas health IT coordinator in 2010, and has led the construction of Arkansas’ statewide HIE, the State Health Alliance for Records Exchange or SHARE. SHARE, its infrastructure and policy, has basically been built from scratch. A few community health systems, hospitals and Blue Cross Blue Shield Arkansas had internal HIEs, but there wasn’t much regional exchange, and at one large hospital, Scott said, more than half of the patients have been coming from outside its network. In a state where a lot of areas still lack broadband Internet, small practices are just starting to use, or consider using, digital health records.

“I knew we were way behind in terms of how health information is used, compared to how IT is used in finance,” Scott said.
SHARE has been built as a public utility, a model that in other states, like Kansas, has been controversial and not panned out as intended. Although the details about data ownership and financing haven’t been worked out, leaving some stakeholders, like the Arkansas Hospital Association, with lingering concerns, SHARE seems to have mostly broad support.

“He’s gone out of his way to be inclusive of all parties,” Paul Cunningham, vice president of Arkansas Hospital Association, said of Scott.

Experience with public policy — where politics, business and science intersect — is probably why Scott was chosen for the job. He recalls Governor Beebe saying to him: ‘’I need you to do this because you know the players and this ain’t your first rodeo.”

“We weren’t trying to build a new large bureaucracy that would control and run everything,” Scott said. “I tried to disarm any notion that folks had of ‘Here goes Ray building an empire.’”

The public utility model evolved out of stakeholder talks, Scott said. He focused on what functions the HIE would have and how to build it, rather than the more controversial question of who owns the data, who’d be running the HIE and how it would be financed.

“If we started there,” Scott said, “we would never get anywhere.”

Those are central questions, of course, and they haven’t been answered yet. Now doing direct messaging with 2,000 providers (and about as many signing up currently) and with query functionality set to go live in a year, SHARE, its IT built by the vendor OptumInsight, is operating on the original $8 million ONC grant and set to start financing itself with provider fees in the future, their nature still to be decided.

Those issues aside, the progress with SHARE is palpable, said Joe Thompson, the state’s surgeon general and director of Arkansas Center for Healthcare Improvement.
“I think we’re in a transition period, we’ve got to find the balance between how do we keep the IT nimble enough and secure,” Thompson said. “We’re really trying to transform the whole system,” referring to Arkansas plan to shift private and public healthcare away from a fee-for-service system to a pay-for-quality model, as recently noted in The New York Times Opinionator blog.

Both Thompson and Cunningham, from the Arkansas Hospital Association, note that there is always the option to turn SHARE into a private nonprofit or create private HIEs.

“Whichever route you take, there’s going to be a cost for it,” Cunningham said.

And whichever route SHARE ultimately takes, the ONC is pretty impressed.

“One state that seems to truly have embodied the goals of the State Health Information Exchange (SHIE) Cooperative Agreement program is Arkansas,” ONC spokesperson Peter Ashkenaz said. “They look towards the overall bigger picture of the quality and efficiency of health care, and are always seeking ways to increase meaningful exchange, including collaboration with other programs such as payment reform initiatives.”

And Scott, who is also a noted nature photographer and is retiring at the end of the year, has much praise for the ONC and federal government: “I think the wisdom by those visionaries who wrote the HITECH Act is that you’re not going to transform the healthcare system in this country if you don’t build a comprehensive communications network.”

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Romney and Ryan camps clarify health law positions

On Sunday, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, said he would keep the popular provision in President Barack Obama’s health law that “makes sure those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.”

And on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulus, Paul Ryan appeared to back a lesser-known part of the law called “maintenance of effort” that prohibits states from making it harder for people to get covered by Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor, until 2014.

Both statements seemed to signal dramatic shifts in position for the Republican presidential ticket. But campaign officials later insisted the men hadn’t said anything they hadn’t said before.

On pre-existing conditions,  campaign officials said later Sunday that Romney supports coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but only for those who have had continuous coverage — a position Romney has had for months. That helps people who change jobs, but leaves out those with a gap in coverage. The Commonwealth Fund found that about 89 million Americans between 2004 and 2007  had at least a one-month gap of coverage.

A Romney official said that such people would be taken care of by state high-risk insurance pools.

In contrast, the federal health law starting in 2014 blocks insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions for everyone. The provision is already in effect for children.

Since 1996, a federal law has protected people from being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions if they continually have coverage. The downside of that law is there is no limit on what insurers can charge. Under the federal health law, in 2014, insurers won’t be able to charge higher rates based on a person’s health status.

On the “maintenance of effort” provision, which was first included in the federal stimulus package in 2009, then continued by the 2010 health law,  campaign officials clarified that despite Ryan’s comment, he is still in favor of killing the requirement because it inhibits state flexibility with Medicaid.

Ryan favors giving states block grants so they have broader power over the program. Stephanopoulus noted that the Urban Institute has estimated that between 14 million and 27 million fewer people will be covered under Medicaid block grants.

“I won’t get into the details, but with maintenance of effort requirements, which is what we’ve done in the past, they still have to serve this population,” Ryan said in the television interview.

Joe Antos, an economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he thinks Ryan meant to say that even if Medicaid became a block grant, states would have to continue serving those eligible for the program.

To receive guaranteed federal funding, states today must cover certain “mandatory” populations. These include children under age 6 with family income below 133 percent of the federal poverty line; children ages 6 to 18 with income below the poverty line; pregnant women with income below 133 percent of the poverty line; and most seniors and persons with disabilities who receive cash assistance through the Supplemental Security Income  program.

This article was reprinted from with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Mostashari calls for vendors to add Blue Button quickly

Farzad Mostashari, MD, the national health IT coordinator, has challenged vendors to make it easy for consumers by early 2013 to view, download and transmit to another party their health information in the form of a Blue Button feature.

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has established a Twitter hashtag of #VDTnow for companies and organizations to post their commitment to establishing the feature.

Implementing the functionality for view, download and transmit (VDT) to a third party, “I think, is underappreciated for how significant that’s going to be to the concept of consumer-mediated health information exchange,” Mostashari said at a Sept. 10 ONC summit on consumer health IT.

[Related: For National Health IT Week, a look in the cyrstal ball.]

“It moves us from personal health records tethered to this particular provider’s or that particular health plan’s data source to the concept of a personally controlled health record,” he  said, adding that it will accelerate capabilities for stage 2 meaningful use requirements in 2014 for patient engagement and health information exchange.

The summit was the first of several events observing Health IT Week in the Nation’s Capital.

Health IT companies, providers and healthcare organizations can offer patients access to and a copy of their electronic information through patient portals linked to their electronic health records (EHRs), a Blue Button feature on their personal health record (PHR) software or other applications on patients’ computers.

Blue Button was developed first for veterans to access their information through their HealtheVet personal record in a simple ASCII text file. More than 1 million veterans have downloaded their information, according to the Veterans Affairs Department. Military service members and Medicare beneficiaries also have a Blue Button capability, and it is beginning to be deployed in the private sector.

[See also: ONC drops pursuit of NwHIN governance.]

Among the vendors who said they would have a Blue Button feature early next year by the time of the HIMSS 2013 annual conference in March were eClinicalWorks, Greenway Medical, SOAPware, Athenahealth and Cerner. RelayHealth said it already has Blue Button available.

“Blue Button has evolved from veterans getting their own data, but is now a national concept ‘to give me my data’,” Mostashari said. Among the goals for ONC’s consumer health IT program is to nudge patients to access their data and take action with it.

One of the first veterans to participate in using Blue Button, Randy Watson, of Joplin, Mo., who has complex heart ailments and diabetes, said he did so because “it’s my right to have my record.”

“They are my medical records, and with Blue Button I have control over them, and they are correct,” he said, adding that he also has the mobile phone app for Blue Button.

Surveys have shown that patients want their information but are unaware that they can ask for it, according to Lygeia Ricciardi, acting director of ONC’s Office of Consumer eHealth.

One year ago when ONC launched its consumer ehealth program, 30 organizations that are data holders and non-data holders pledged to make it easier for patients to gain access to their information, and now more than 400 organizations have committed to doing that over time, Ricciardi said.

“Data holders are pledging to make the information easily electronically available, while the non-data holders, a broader category, is helping to spread the word to go out there and do it, and also building the tools that are going to make that appealing and useful to people,” she said.

[Related: Celebrating HIT as an essential during Natonal Health IT Week.]

For example, ONC will announce the winner next week of a developer’s challenge to mash up Blue Button data with other kinds of data.

ONC also wants to help change attitudes of patients. “Have you ever felt a little uncomfortable asking your doctor for your information? Part of what we’re doing to encourage people is to let them know that it’s ok to ask for your records,” Ricciardi said, including a video challenge for the public to show how they use or would use their data and IT.

ONC also plans to add two work groups to its advisory Health IT Policy and Standards committees to advance patient engagement. The public will have a chance to nominate folks to those groups, she said.

View the original article here

Saturday, September 22, 2012

ONC drops pursuit of NwHIN governance

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has dropped pursuit of a regulation for establishing “rules of the road” for the nationwide health information network (NwHIN) based on feedback it has received.

Commenters from industry and the public made it clear that federal regulation could slow development of health information exchange just as those activities are starting to emerge and pick up steam, “perhaps more than is widely appreciated,” according to Dr. Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health IT.

ONC issued a request for information (RFI) in May to collect public comment on a possible approach for rulemaking to spell out “conditions of trusted exchange,” including safeguards and technical and business practices. ONC wanted to receive broad input before issuing a proposed rule, he said.

ONC also considered establishing a voluntary accreditation and certification process through which to approve organizations as being legitimate participants in NwHIN, somewhat similar to the procedures for certifying electronic health records for meaningful use functions.

“Based on what we heard and our analysis of alternatives, we’ve decided not to continue with the formal rulemaking process at this time, and instead implement an approach that provides a means for defining and implementing nationwide trusted exchange with higher agility, and lower likelihood of regret,” he wrote in a Sept. 7 blog.

NwHIN is a set of comprehensive standards, services and policies that enable healthcare organizations to share information securely through the Internet.

ONC’s goal is that information follows the patient where and when it is needed, across organizational, vendor, and geographic boundaries.

But the current state of information exchange and care coordination is far from this ideal. In addition to technical challenges with interoperability, “the absence of common ‘rules of the road’ may be hindering the development of a trusted marketplace for information exchange services,” Mostashari said.

However, voluntary governance bodies are now forming both for directed and query-based exchange. ONC wants to encourage the exchange activities that are gaining steam, “and not to hobble them,” he said, especially with the expectations for standards-based exchange in stage 2 of meaningful use.

“And let me assure you that if systemic problems or market break-downs emerge that might require regulatory action, we will again seek input from the public and our stakeholders, including the Health IT Policy and Standards committees,” Mostashari warned.

Participation in the NwHIN Exchange previously was limited to federal health agencies and primarily large healthcare organizations that contract with them or are federal grantees. Agreement on how to assure conditions for trusted exchange will enable many more organizations to participate.

Among the actions that ONC will press for to promote trusted exchange are:

• Identify and shine a light on good practices that support secure and interoperable exchange and provide a guide for evolving governance models

• Learn from and engage with groups in governance and oversight roles for exchange partners in order to foster models within and across communities

• Continue to use existing authorities and convening powers to create consensus and provide guidance and tools around specific barriers to interoperability and exchange

• Evaluate how and what consumer protections can be appropriately applied to health information exchange through existing regulations

• Monitor and learn from the wide range of activities that are occurring.

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3 Activities That Boosts the Working Memory in Children

Children are the future of human mankind. Hence; it is very important to boost the working memory, which is an integral part of brain development process for children. In this article; we look at different activities which can boost the working memory in children.

A well known scholar once said “A good memory is like a bagful of gold.” Therefore it is very important to build the + memory of children in their formative years. Working memory stores crucial information, while other material which is taught in schools forms the foundation for complex skills and knowledge. Children are very innocent in their early days. Hence, they can retain lot of information in their brains. A child who has poor working memory will find it extremely difficult to take on activities and face problems in learning. A recent research claims that memory deficits, if not found in early childhood can lead to extreme conditions; that can affect the academic performance of the child.

Let us now see different activities that can boost the working memory in children:

Kim’s game: This is a very popular game played by young kids that provides memory building exercises for them. It contains various selections of objects and number of words. These things are displayed to the child and then the objects are covered up. Kids then have to determine which item has been removed. This game can be played with different sets of objects.Repetition: This activity ensures that children retain information for both short term and long term memories. It consists of reciting times tables, test questions and regularly viewing vocabulary cards. Study shows that with regular retrieval practice the child’s memory can be increased substantially. Number and letter sequences: If you want to teach your child a foreign language then number and letter sequences is a very probable answer. It comprises of short number sequence and then gradually builds up digit by digit. The child then gets a minute to revise it after which the number sequence is removed completely. The child then has to recall as much of the sequence as they can. This process is repeated for letters.

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CMS EHR incentive payments flirt with $7 billion

Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record payments are approaching $7 billion since its inception, with $6.9 billion paid out to 143,800 physicians and hospitals in total program estimates through the end of August.

Final figures will be available later this month as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid captures more complete data.

In August, the agency paid about $500 million in incentives, with about $325 million going to Medicare providers and $175 million to Medicaid providers, “which will bring us knocking on the door of $7 billion in incentive payments issued as of the end of last month,” said Robert Anthony, a specialist in CMS’ Office of eHealth Standards and Services. 

He reported the latest EHR incentive program statistics at the Sept. 6 Health IT Policy Committee meeting

In July, the totals were $6.6 billion since the program’s start paid to 132,511 eligible providers.

As of July, nearly 1 out of every 5 Medicare eligible provider, or about 18 percent are meaningful users of EHRs., he said. Additionally, 1 out of every 4 Medicare and Medicaid eligible providers has made a financial commitment to an EHR, he said. And 55 percent of eligible hospitals have received an EHR incentive payment for meaningful use.

As of July, 271,105 Medicare and Medicaid physicians and hospitals have registered to participate in the incentive program, tracking at about 10,300 monthly, he said. Breaking down the total, that’s 180,513 Medicare physicians, 86,708 Medicaid clinicians and 3,884 hospitals.

Even as more physicians and hospitals participate in the incentive program, nothing has changed related to their level of performance in the attestation data, Anthony said.

“The longer we go saying that not much has changed, the more encouraging that trend actually is because it is an indication that more and more providers are coming in, yet everybody is performing at a statistically high level,” he said.

Providers tend to exceed the required threshold of performance for recording objectives for problem list, medications list or medication-allergy list. And there is little difference in performance among physicians and hospitals, Anthony said.

“As we move into August, we’re no longer looking at just the early adopters, we’re looking at people who may still be in their first year of meaningful use, but they’re not necessarily the people who are at the beginning of the curve. Yet we continue to see very high performance across the board on all the objectives,” he said.

“We will be better informed when we have people returning later in 2012, and we can do a comparison of meaningful use in a second full-year period vs. a 90-day period,” Anthony noted.

Besides the required measures, the most popular menu objectives to attest to are advance directives, drug formulary and clinical lab test results for hospitals; and drug formulary, immunization registry and patient lists for physicians. The least popular measure is the transitions of care summaries for both.

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Learning in the electronic way

Digital learning is advanced ways of making the students learn in an interactive way. Many schools are bringing in the latest methods of learning to make the students learn after their school hours. Technology has drastically changed in the recent years and also has developed mew methods in the education field. It is helping people learn in a new and interesting way which has probably changed the teaching methods in many schools.

The new interactive learning concepts have made people learn even with a small device. Digital learning is possible beyond the schools through the electronic learning concept. Many educators around the world are unaware about the latest technology. They help them to make kids learn very easily along with the practical knowledge. The organization’s community is very much keen to develop the digital learning method in the schools after their school hours to let the kids gain extra knowledge.

It helps one to create live models about various subjects to give a live demonstration about the subjects. Also the e-learning methods allow kids to educate themselves anywhere with just a mobile learning device. The youth staffs would know the technology very well and also can handle the e-learning technology well. Many of the organizations are unable to help their individuals to learn through the digital learning concept due to the lack of the infrastructure and staff facilities. But the e-learning concept is now being spread and is being incorporated in every institute to benefits the students. The digital and e-learning concepts support all the electronic form of teaching and learning techniques. The basic need is an electronic device connected to a network and anyone can start using the digital learning the service. The web based learning technology allows one to get details about any subject and also upload their piece of knowledge to let other people learn.

Apart from the advantages it also has many drawbacks. The technology is changing and hence the already running systems need to update their old technology. In many cases the devices go obsolete and cannot be configured with the new technology. Also when a new technology is introduced its cost may be very high which cannot be used by all the institutes. There are also security and privacy issues along with the outdated equipments. These are the reasons why the e-learning and the new learning concepts are not yet widely accepted by many of the organizations.

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

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3 Components for Developing a Great eLearning Game

As technology has advanced, lots of innovative ideas are being tried in the education domain to make the experience of children pleasurable. Keeping this in mind, this article focuses on crucial components for developing a great e-learning game.

Combining education with entertainment is not a cup of tea for ordinary developer. It requires lot of creativity and patience. The smooth layouts and graphics add to the visuals of the game. But the major purpose of the e-learning game should be to impart knowledge to the students. But it is quite subjective to define a good e-learning game. It is still an unknown entity which has not been answered properly. This article talks about different components which help in developing a great e-learning game. Let us look at these components in detail:

Perfect combination of learning and entertainment: Always ensure that there is a perfect blend of learning and entertainment while developing an e-learning game. Care should be taken that the learning objectives behind developing the game is fulfilled. For example; for English you can have various word jigjaw puzzles and memory games to strengthen the memory of the student. Always try to integrate all the crucial aspects that are important from the learning perspective to be present in the game.Give impetus to the students to play the game: Children are the most difficult target audience to attract because they genuinely like or dislike the game. Hence, it is very important to provide proper impetus to the students to play the games. For example; if there are puzzles in the game each level needs to present different challenge so that children do not get bored with the games and play to learn something from it. Engagement and attraction are two things which make children focus on the game.Target the essential elements of learning in the game: Always focus on the learning aspect in the game. Try to eradicate those portions wherein the learning aspect gets diverted. For example; if you are playing a game on grammar which deals with identifying verbs and nouns from a group of sentences. If you are constantly clicking on the ground to walk around, examining surroundings to identify boxes and then picking them up, the verbs that get collected are not of relevance as they are not part of the learning mechanism.

Context is of prime importance in an e-learning game. An experienced e-learning provider would follow the points mentioned above and create extravagant e-learning games for children.

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

Media Contact (emPower)
Jason Gaya

12806 Townepark Way
Louisville, KY 40243-2311
Ph: 502 -400-9374


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Five Thought-Provoking Ideas For Transforming K-12 Education to Another Level

The current education system has become stagnant and needs a tremendous boast to get the relevant interest of the students. Hence; in this article we have specified some innovative strategies to take K-12 education to another level. Click here to view the article.

Education has become a mere formality nowadays without any impetus on providing learning to students. We are seeing lots of e-learning courses being developed, but the sole purpose of education is lost. There is a need for an educational structure that can not only provide better learning opportunities to students, but also stimulate them to gain knowledge from the subjects. In order to fulfill this prophecy, there is a need for an educational mechanism that can transform the thinking of the students to another level.

Some of the ideas for radically transforming K-12 education include:

The transforming role of teachers: Teachers are more than just tutors in the lives of the students. They function more like mentors who are liable for making or breaking the career of the student. Hence; there is a need for an e-learning course which can not only provide interactive support to the children through one-on-one counseling, but also look after the academic progress of the student. Teachers should deliver the content in such a manner that students enjoy the learning process and get the intellectual knowledge thoroughly.The evolving role of tests: In the traditional learning methods, teachers used to take tests of the students. But with the inception of e-learning courses things have changed dramatically. Now, no longer does a teacher take test of the student to evaluate their progress. It is done through online practice. Hence; there is a need for a practice management tool to be integrated in the e-learning courses such that students can practice basic problems to understand the topic. Interactive exercises should also be amalgamated in the e-learning courses so that they can make the learning process interactive and fun-loving.Need for customized learning path for each student: It is very important to create customized learning patterns for students based on their intellectual capacity and understanding. The courses designed should follow the common core curriculum and state boards.Guidance from experts from relevant field: In order to be a success, it is very important for an e-learning course to integrate expertise knowledge from relevant domain so that whenever, students get stuck they can get spontaneous response from the expert of that particular field. It should also be noted that there should only be one tutor per student so that the student can enjoy undivided attention from the expert.Integration of images alongwith videos in the content: E-learning courses have to be designed in such a manner that students get interactive content including lots of images and videos; so that they can learn in a fun-filled environment. This kind of teaching pattern is especially important for primary level students as it makes the learning process interesting and interactive.

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Mining data for state CDC, Maine HIE pilot project aims for population analysis

The Maine HealthInfoNet is aggregating and analyzing health information exchange data at the population level, with the aim of finding trends and specific figures that currently evade most tools of epidemiology.

In a pilot project funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HealthInfoNet, Maine’s statewide HIE, is collecting and assembling data for the Maine CDC, using the open source software popHealth. The project focuses on 13 Meaningful Use clinical quality measures using the ABCDS — aspirin therapy, blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes control and smoking cessation.

It should let public health researchers find out, for instance, what percentage of Mainers with diabetes have sugar levels under control and what percentage of hypertension patients had their blood pressure checked during their last medical visit.

These and other public health measurements, at least of large populations, have eluded researchers for a while, said Stephen Sears, MD, Maine’s state epidemiologist.

“If you want to know how many diabetics within a database there are within a certain age group,” Sear said, “that’s almost impossible to get right now unless you have a data set like the Maine HealthInfoNet registry.” Plus, you need the technology to sift through it all while staying HIPAA compliant.

Sears is cautiously optimistic that they’ll be able to find all of what they’re looking for in the various clinical areas. “What I’ve seen is that it suggests that for certain parameters it looks like its going to be able to work.”

The data basically runs from HealthInfoNet and its vendor, Agilex, to popHealth and then to the Maine CDC. The U.S. CDC’s role is mostly funding and support, through its program Demonstrating the Preventative Care Value of Health Information Exchanges.

The project and a lot of data collection started a little less than a year ago. Now HealthInfoNet and the Maine CDC are essentially testing their capabilities.

“For every person, each month we’re producing different measures for people based on conditions,” said HealthInfoNet CEO Devore Culver. They’re able to make comparisons like how many diabetics who’ve had a hemoglobin lab test scored under 9, an indication of diabetes control.

“The state CDC expends a significant amount of energy and effort trying to gather and compile data that allows them to draw conclusion about trends of health in Maine,” Culver said. “Up until now, it’s been a fairly manual-intense process and the data is not always clear.”

Culver noted that the project is first of its kind and could be a boon to the Maine health department and CDC.

“It’s really a first foray into whether you can repurpose information, not violate patients privacy or expose providers, and use it for something of value and see how health is progressing in the state,” Culver said. “This is a very low cost, with a lot of value.”

If Maine can prove the analysis works, the goal is to eventually take the model to other states, said Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, Director of CDC’s Division of Informatics Solutions and Operations.

“We’re building a way for state health departments to use the data that’s circulating around their state health information systems,” Kass-Hout said. “The whole goal here for us is to be able to create shared services and platform for local and state health department to use this data.”

First, though, HIE organizations need to be able to meet certain technology and policy criteria that lets them navigate potentially rough waters, he said. HIPAA compliance is a major challenge, as is maintaining providers’ privacy.

“Maine Health InfoNet has the right governance, the right policies and it’s independent, non-for-profit — free of much political or industry influence,” Kass-Hout said.

The pilot project runs until the end of the year. Kass-Hout wouldn’t say if the CDC will renew funding for another year.

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Friday, September 21, 2012


Lots of e-learning courses have come up recently. These courses give valuable options to the students and professionals to get higher education and build a bright future. In this article; we look at the reasons exhibiting the importance of e-learning.

Technological advancement has made the entire globe a tiny place where we live in. We are already seeing the impact of globalization in education. Students are no longer restrained to classroom education. They can now learn at their own pace and time. E-learningcourses are not restricted to education but they are also beneficial for corporate trainings and businesses. These courses have been created with specific e-learning solutions like Learning Management System (LMS). A good LMS includes various collaborative e-learning tools that provide speedy, effective interactions and creates a synchronized learning mechanism for the trainers and learners.

Let us now look at the various reasons which exhibit the importance of e-learning:

Increasing demand for higher education: Education has become a key criterion for career expansion. We have already seen increasing demand of professionals for higher education; and distance learning has become a boon for these executives. With the help of selected e-learning courses, students and executives can now pursue professional courses online with greater ease. Professors and trainers can also conduct virtual classrooms and online trainings in a better way.For better information dissemination: E-learning is extremely important medium for better information dissemination. It also makes learning more complete and well structured.Easy to learn and take tests at your own convenience: With the advantage of global classroom environment, students can now learn at their own pace and convenience. They can even choose courses as per their interests and take standardized tests to evaluate their grip on the subjects.

E-learning courses provide tremendous opportunities to professionals as they can now aim for higher positions by opting for online courses. These courses also provide a basic outline of the topics which gives students an opportunity to revise the topics thoroughly, and prepare for the exams. A proficient   e-learning course provider will always try to create courses according to the needs of the target audience. It is also very important to consider end goals that you would like to achieve to get maximum results from the courses.

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

Media Contact (emPower)
Jason Gaya

12806 Townepark Way
Louisville, KY 40243-2311
Ph: 502 -400-9374


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What the platforms tell us about parties' stance on health IT

It’s a joke without a punch line: Both Republican and Democratic national party platforms make sparse mention of health IT.

To be certain, there’s plenty of focus on the broader healthcare issues. The GOP platform, in fact, dedicates its first two sections to ‘Saving Medicare for future generations’ and ‘Strengthening Medicaid in the states’, while the Democrats also address the issue early on with a section about healthcare as part of ‘The middle class bargain’ and another on ‘Social Security and Medicaid.’

As for any particulars of health IT, well, that’s another matter. Quite literally, each party offers up a single sentence on its intentions for health IT.

From page 33 of the 2012 Republican Platform PDF:
We support technology enhancements for health records and data systems while affirming patient privacy and ownership of health information.

Now, should that strike you as oddly vague, just wait.

“If anyone was disappointed in the scant attention given to health IT in the Republican Party Platform, then the Democratic Party Platform should give them pause,” said Brian Ahier, health IT evangelist at Mid-Columbia Medical Center, author of the Healthcare, Technology, and Government 2.0 blog, and city councilor in The Dalles, Ore. “Health IT is barely mentioned at all, and only in the context of broader technology initiatives.”

Indeed, in the 2012 Democratic National Party Platform health IT is on page 41 of the PDF:
We will ensure that America has a 21st century digital infrastructure – robust wired and wireless broadband capability, a smarter electrical grid, and upgraded information technology infrastructure in key sectors such as health care and education.

Reactions to the perhaps pithy stances of both parties stance have been mixed.

“I regret that the platforms are largely silent on HIT,” former four-term Vermont Governor Jim Douglas wrote in an email exchange with Government Health IT. Douglas is now a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Governor’s Council and executive-in-residence at Middlebury College. “Perhaps it’s not a sexy topic, but it’s essential to our efforts to improve the quality of care and contain costs.”

So, why such vague references to health IT? Shouldn’t the national party platforms include a greater vision of and intent for the technologies forging the underpinnings of next-gen healthcare in America? Or is what the parties outlined enough for the majority of American voters?

“At this point in time I think maybe it is enough,” said Iowa State Representative Linda Upmeyer (R), a career nurse practitioner who has proposed health IT legislation since being elected 10 years ago. “I hope what it means is that this is really in an early state, but there’s a commitment to move health IT forward, that they’re listening and trying to continually improve so that the government doesn’t get this wrong.”

While some will argue that the November elections might test the bipartisan nature of health IT, at least for now Ahier, Douglas and Upmeyer view the party platforms as evidence that bipartisanship remains intact.

“It would seem that both parties agree that when health IT is used effectively it can help address the challenges confronting our healthcare system,” Ahier said. Douglas added that “the current administration continues to move the ball down the field through grants to the states, incentives to providers and implementation of the meaningful use standards,” he said. “I’m confident that the bipartisan support will continue because both parties understand the value of HIT.”

Which leads back to the beginning, where both parties support health IT, but are short on detail about exactly how – which may be because neither party can say for sure precisely what committing to health IT will really mean for the future.

“It’s always important to have something that keeps policymakers pushing health IT to the forefront, but we policymakers, be it inside the beltway or inside the golden dome in Iowa, don’t have the solutions or all the answers. So we can commit to investing in health IT and rely on the people really doing it to help determine what the next steps are,” Upmeyer, the Iowa rep said. “I don’t really want congressmen or senators or legislators deciding for them.”

Neither does Steven Waldren, MD, director of the Center for Health IT at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“I’d much rather health IT not be a political football and remain behind the scenes a little because there’s no political urgency such that either side is going to try to politicize it and move forward. Instead, they recognize it’s an important issue,” Waldren said. “The two platforms have different philosophies but at least it’s not being debated at the level of lies, made up truths, or spinning things out of context.”

Although, there might be a solid punch line or two to emerge from that manner of rhetoric.

For more of our politics coverage, visit Political Malpractice: Healthcare in the 2012 Election.

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6 Evolutionary Trends In e-Learning Education

Withthe emergence of internet, e-learning education has become a revolution. We have already seen lots of e-learning courses being introduced in the market. There are some emerging trends which can really give real impetus to e-learning and take it to another sphere. Let us look at some of these trends:

SHIFT TO OPEN SOURCE TECHNOLOGY:Learning Management Systems (LMS) have traditionally been a paid service. But with time there are lots of new open source systems like OpenClass have come up which have received a warm welcome from students and educators.Key integration of e-learning courses by employers:E-learning courses have not enjoyed popularity amongst students and career oriented employees; as the certificates for the courses are not regarded as a valuable thing in the job market. But as the popularity of e-learning courses increases with the number of masses this perception will change.Assimilation of hybrid courses: Different types of courses have been developed with the assimilation of online education along with face-to-face teacher interaction. This type of education is revolutionary and can change the paradigm of online education system.Excellent growth in enrollment of e-learning courses in comparison to traditional courses: Enrollment of e-learning courses has risen to 21% growth rate in comparison to a paltry 2% growth rate in overall higher education. As the technologies grow; you can expect the rise of e-learning enrollment at the same pace.Increasing use of social media tool for education: Social media is often regarded as a tool for masses to interact with friends and be in touch with them. But recently the trend is changing. Increasingly social media tools are being used for educational purposes, and this will enhance the quality of the entire online educational system.Digital content distribution in lieu of books and closed texts: For e-learning courses; textbooks have been replaced by digital content distribution system. It gives freedom to students and professionals to get the relevant information through various mobile devices.

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


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Is MOOC more than just a buzzword?

Trojan horse Is the hype around Massive Open Online Courses a Trojan horse in the global higher education debate? Image: PR.

When I first pitched my blog series, Postcards from the Participatory, I intended it to be a collection of narratives exploring Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from the inside. I was engaged in the almost year-long #change11 MOOC, and I wanted to explore how the experience intersected with – and departed from – my teaching and learning within university walls. I thought the series might share a few stories about the resonances and challenges of participatory education, and explore the implications of distributed learning networks for conventional higher education. Basically, I thought it was time for higher education to start thinking about MOOCs.

Ahem. Apparently bigger fish than me had a similar idea.

Days after my first post was published, MITx was announced. In the months since, I've watched agog as the word MOOC has proliferated and spiralled into the higher education buzzword of the year. Trying to keep on top of it makes me feel vaguely like the sorcerer's apprentice in Fantasia, frantically scurrying as the brooms divide and double.

When you have worked in academia for 15 years, you get used to a relatively glacial and circular pace of change. This nouvelle vague of MOOC hoopla, then, has been disorienting. But there's no denying it. In mainstream newsspeak, it appears MOOC now signifies some material manifestation of the 'disruptive innovation' everybody's sure is upon us but can't quite pin down.

Educational enterprises tagged with the letter X are fruitful and multiply. University presidents are dismissed – if later reinstated – for failing to change fast enough, though the terms and targets of change are never explicitly specified. And Udacity and the xEd mega-MOOCs, with their overt emphasis on data collection and vaguely-defined business models, begin to look like trojan horses for mass-scale automation of teaching and marking.

When the cavalry charge is being led by the most prestigious HEIs in the market, it's hard to assume it'll all just blow over. Clearly, higher education is thinking about MOOCs and the tone of that thinking gets a little bit more portentous and apocalyptic all the time. I find myself musing on Yeats, wondering what rough beast the MOOC is morphing into?

Words become buzzwords because they capture a sentiment or zeitgeist burbling under the skin of a culture. They give name to latent hopes and fears, and they capitalize on our secret hubris – rampant in academia – that we are knowers, that we can name the future.

The problem, of course, with buzzwords is that they end up empty. In this case, each new media iteration of the term 'MOOC' seems to tie it more closely to the behemoth of elite power and rapid change that drives the frenzy around disruption in higher education.

Yes, higher education is changing. Its funding and knowledge structures and its place in culture have shifted drastically in the past generation or two, on multiple axes and in often-conflicting directions. It's under intense pressure to function in an increasingly corporate fashion, with increasingly little public funding. Globalization and the push for participatory collaboration all challenge the role of the traditional classroom. Things fall apart, we hear from every corner. The centre cannot hold.

The problem with apocalyptic thinking is that it predisposes us towards simple solutions and salvation narratives, even in complex situations. If we're interested in being part of the conversation around the future of higher ed, we need to stop talking about MOOCs as buzzwords and begin talking about the interests that determine the specific shape of particular MOOCs as they emerge.

MOOCs will not inherently gut faculty positions in higher education. They do not have automation and robot grading built into their conceptual structure. They certainly offer the capacity for these things, if backed by scale and prestige and neoliberal values of efficiency and market niche domination: they offer the potential to look like disruptive innovation while consolidating the market interests of elite brands within higher education. Udacity's partnership with Pearson? Perhaps a case in point

MOOCs grew, initially, as learning networks of emergent knowledge focused around educational technologies – in other words, around complexity and disruptive innovation in higher ed. Oh, the irony! In their first inaugurations, led by George Siemens, Stephen Downes, and Dave Cormier, MOOCs weren't especially aimed at disrupting the university at all. They weren't about the university, but about an alternate environment for learning. As Downes put it, "MOOCs don't change the nature of the game; they're playing a different game entirely."

I've participated in a couple of MOOCs within this tradition. Instead of leaping to grand-scale automation, they've gone the opposite route, attemptiung to build sites for participatory conversation and networking around emergent technologies, practices, and ideas. There will be another, the biggest yet, offered this coming autumn. Its topic? The current and future state of higher education.

My final postcard, then, says forget the buzzwords. The hype around MOOCs only clouds the conversation, consolidating power back in the hands of those who have the most to lose if the universities as business entities do not adapt. But those of us who teach and learn have ties to these entities too – just little to gain from robot grading. It's complex, this future of higher education. Maybe MOOCs can be a different kind of Trojan horse for change.

Bonnie Stewart is a PhD student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. She is a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus, read her blog or follow her on Twitter at @bonstewart

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Forget the business case, open online courses are about learning

Forget the business case, open online courses are about learning Massive Online Open Courses are not the solution to education in the 21st century - but they do offer something new. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/REUTERS

Ever since MITx was unveiled last December, futurists have been predicting what it might all mean for higher education. They're calling it "The Great Disruption", a brand name worthy of Nostradamus. The Globe and Mail says it's about time. The Atlantic is envisioning a post-campus America.

For those of us actually enrolled in Massive Open Online Courses, though – or those like me who have enlisted both to teach and learn within these experimental course environments – this great disruption feels more like an augmentation than anything else.

I think higher education has something to learn from the experiences that I – and learners like me, merging non-traditional avenues with formalised classroom experiences – are engaging in. Those of us who have chosen graduate studies in spite of the much-lamented death of the tenure-track professoriate have little reason to assume that we will have any sort of protected or privileged place in the academy's next incarnation.

Yet here we are. We are, at least for the moment, part of the system. But many of us are wary of being fully subsumed into it, because we've been cautioned against betting the farm on that tenure path. So we keep a foot outside the tower, seeking out alternative paths to augment our learning and research; we are keeping options open.

Yet neither do we necessarily reject the academy. For myself, I don't belong to the Do It Yourself University camp that sometimes suggests that Moocs and unstructured online network participation are the solution to education in the 21st century.

Our world relies too heavily on credentials for me to believe that the #change11 (an introductory course about instructional technology for researchers) experience would remain as open as it is, if it were suddenly forced to carry the burden of standards that falls, rightly or wrongly, on formalised higher education. The logic that drives open online credentialing experiments is, thus far, only experimental.

Moocs do disrupt business as usual, yes. Those of us in the #change11 Mooc are engaged in the course at no cost, and nobody except us is holding our learning or performance to any particular external standards. Unlike MITx, the 36 week #change11 course offers no credential. These factors all make it a significantly different experience from studying at my bricks-and-mortar university.

What #change11 gives me, though, is access to a multitude of semi-organised ideas and expert facilitators, plus a semi-coherent network of peers to work through the weeks with. That network remains largely stable even as topics and facilitators rotate weekly.

It is this participatory element – the being part of a large, distributed network of people from varied backgrounds, focusing on the same topic – that enables open online experiences to offer value, even to those of us already studying in conventional institutions. That, and the speed and flexibility inherent in networked learning.

In a Google-able culture replete with neo-liberal demands for reform, efficiency, and innovation, Moocs help those of us interested in emergent ideas participate in a public learning experience that is otherwise not really available by conventional means.

As I forge ahead with my own research, the lack of fit between learning and success on academic terms and those that social media rewards and reinforces become increasingly apparent. Journal publications lag years behind blog posts in my area of specialisation. The theory that guides my research seldom addresses the online contexts in which I'm trying to apply it. But my Mooc peers and facilitators do. And so I apply the ideas shaped by traditional academic environments to those shared in distributed digital environments.

The Mooc augments my PhD studies by making it possible for me to be a public thinker and learner; by giving me up-to-the-minute access to the conversations shaping and driving my field, and the opportunity to participate in these conversations. They are available on the wider internet, certainly. But Moocs help curate and cohere them, and also overtly create them. Moocs don't just bring disparate networks and opportunities into focus; they carve out explicit teaching and learning spaces within the information overload of contemporary social media.

Will these type of practice ultimately have an impact of the teaching and learning spaces of traditional institutions? I hope so. But not necessarily in the ways heralded by media.

Too often, Moocs – particularly the emergent big-name university offerings that have essentially harnessed the capacity of open online learning and scaled it – are written about primarily as dramatic new business models.

It's true that there's potential in that direction. And Sebastian Thrun and others seem intent on mining it, while all of us watch breathlessly.

But that market lens on massive open coursework misses one of the central elements of the great disruption: education is not solely a business, or a credential-machine. It's also about learning.

And with Moocs, those of us acculturated to academia have the opportunity to learn new, responsive, participatory ways of fostering public knowledge, both inside and outside of traditional institutions. The disruption may be profound, certainly. But so may be the possibilities.

Bonnie Stewart is a PhD student at the University of Prince Edward Island, Canada. Her research explores social media identity and its implications for higher education. She blogs ideas at and identity and parenthood at Find her on Twitter at @bonstewart.

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The 20 Most Useful #hashtags In Education

As a teacher, continuing education is so important that most school districts require that teachers enroll in some form of coursework on a regular basis to keep their knowledge and skills fresh. And while those courses are essential, staying on top of the cutting edge of educational development is important as well.

Through Twitter discussions, teachers can follow the latest in education, whether it’s educational technology or new ways to teach math. These 20 hashtags offer teachers a convenient way to become part of chats and discussions that share the absolute latest in education news, resources, and ideas.

#edchat Created by educators Tom Whitby, Steven Anderson, and Shelly Terrell, #edchat offers a great platform for discussion among teachers and other professionals related to education. With the #edchat hashtag, you can follow along with weekly chats, hosted each Tuesday at 12PM EST and 7PM EST. During these chats, teachers from around the world come together to discuss weekly topics. Some of the recent discussions have included changing students from content consumers to creators, the purpose of education, and education fads vs. trends that last. But even after the chat is done, the conversation continues, with participants frequently sharing news, insights, and resources of interest to education, making #edchat an essential hashtag for any teacher to check out.#edtech Education and technology are intertwined, and there’s no getting around it these days. Technology is doing amazing things for teachers, and if you want to keep up with what’s happening, it’s a good idea to tune into the #edtech hashtag. You’ll learn about education technology resources, new web tools for students, and how other educators are putting technology to work in the classroom and beyond.#education Everything from classroom management to learning from homeschoolers is covered under the #education hashtag. This resource moves fast, with lots of users participating. You’ll find so much helpful information, this is a great place to start if you’re just dipping your toes into hashtags.#lrnchat #lrnchat is all about learning and teaching. The community offers an ongoing discussion, but scheduled chats occur each Thursday from 8:30 to 10 PM. Follow along and learn from the chat as they discuss topics surrounding learning in formal, informal, social and mobile formats. It’s a great way to find out exactly how students learn.#edapp If you’re on the hunt for learning resources to use in your classroom, #edapp is an awesome hashtag to follow. Through #edapp, you’ll be able to find apps for learning, including mobile and web apps. You’ll find newly discovered apps, updates, and ideas for getting the most out of these powerful educational tools through the #edapp hashtag.#classroom If you’re looking for a little help in the classroom, this hashtag just might do the trick. Educators share their resources for improving classroom learning, along with news, debates, and more that can all help you become a better teacher in the classroom.#teaching The #teaching hashtag offers a roundup of everything that’s relevant to instruction and teachers. Follow the #teaching hashtag to see the multitude of ways that teachers are educating students, including graphic novels, comics, and social media. You’ll find resources for teaching more effectively, ideas for different kinds of learning, and insights from teachers who have made it all work.#playoutdoors Not everyone associates “teaching” with “playing,” but being active is an important part of healthy learning. The #playoutdoors hashtag is full of awesome insight for getting your students moving through outdoor learning activities and more.#edreform Education is at a crossroads today, and many are joining the discussion on how we might improve the state of learning. Tune into #edreform to find out about ideas for reform, what’s being done, and what’s really wrong in education today.#globaled Education isn’t just happening in your classroom, it’s going on all around the world. You and your students can benefit from worldwide learning through the resources and knowledge shared on #globaled. #cpchat Created for teacher training and leading, this hashtag offers a great opportunity for questions, answers, and more in educational leadership. Find out about effectiveness in school leadership, improving training for teachers, and more from #cpchat.#ntchat Twitter is a great place for both new and experienced teachers, but this hashtag is made just for newbies. Find resources, inspiration, and news for becoming a better teacher, even if you’re just starting out.#mlearning Teachers today know that learning can happen anywhere, thanks to the phenomenon of mobile learning. #mlearning follows the progress of mobile learning, sharing new and exciting ways that teachers are using mobile devices like iPads, mobile phones, and Kindles for learning anywhere, anytime. Check out #mlearning to see how you might apply mobile learning to your classroom, and find out what the future holds for this type of education.#elearning Just as mobile learning is important for teachers to follow, elearning is vital as well. Teachers can follow this hashtag to find out how others are putting elearning to work in education. Just about any teacher can find inspiration, news, and help for starting or expanding elearning in their classroom from #elearning.#engchat This hashtag for English teachers follows educators as they teach students to read and write. See how graphic novels can be great, find out which young adult books are popular right now, and discover how teachers are inspiring young readers in this Twitter chat. Stop by each Monday from 7 to 8 PM EST for the weekly chat.#sschat Social studies teachers can benefit from #sschat, where teachers discuss their resources and teaching methods in social studies. You’ll find apps for teaching, methods for learning, and find out what other teachers are doing in their social studies classrooms. The #sschat gets together each Monday at 6 PM EST for discussion.#mathchat Math geek teachers can get their fill of math talk through #mathchat. This active group discusses fun ways to present math problems, resources for streamlined learning, and sometimes even shared misery. Any math teacher, or fan of mathematics, can find great entertainment and value in this chat.#scichat #scichat is full of interesting tweets, from weird science stories to online resources for learning more about and teaching science. Tune in Tuesdays at 9PM EST or join the conversation around the clock for enlightened science discussion for teachers and geeks alike.#artsed Artistic learning is important to students getting a full education, but so often it gets pushed aside in favor of learning deemed more important. Check out #artsed to find out why arts are vital to education for students, and how you can keep the arts alive in your classroom.#stem Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are so important to our future as a society, so as a teacher, it’s your job to make sure that your students are receiving an adequate education in these subjects. You can get help by checking out the #stem hashtag, which offers government insight, news, resources, and great ideas for making students stronger in STEM subjects.Which did we miss? Take to the comments to let us know.This is a cross-post from content partners at

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