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Good Principles for a Successful Semester

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By in Classroom, General Education, Student Behavior on .

As we embark on another academic year, I think it’s important to consider how we can create the best environment for learning. In 1987, Chickering and Gamson put forth a brief article titled Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. This document has become a touchstone for educators and instructional designers over the past two and a half decades, and still remains very relevant today.

Chickering and Gamson (1987) pulled the seven principles together in an effort to better understand over 50 years of research on not only how students learn, but also how instructors teach. What resulted were a set of guidelines that, if implemented in part or in whole, has the potential to greatly impact student success in the classroom. As you reflect on your teaching for the semester, consider these principles – and how you might incorporate them – as you prepare future class sessions or courses.

1. Good practice encourages student-instructor contact.

Students interacting with their faculty members has been shown to increase student performance and overall retention to the university. This can be done through emails to students , in- or -out-of-class activities, or simply learning your students’ names.

2. Good practice encourages cooperation among students.

When students interact with others, particularly those with different backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences, or ideologies, they have an opportunity to learn more about the world around them and develop critical thinking and analysis skills. Group projects, study groups, or case/team/problem based learning are all great ways to have students cooperatively learn a concept.

3. Good practice encourages active learning.

The more active a student is in class, the more likely they are to learn the materials being presented. Encourage your students to ask questions and to answer other students’ questions. Further, consider employing one or more tools supported by ITaP designed to increase active and involved learning in your classroom.

4. Good practice involves prompt feedback.

The more students know how they’re doing and how they can improve their performance, the more likely it is that they’ll be successful in the course. Consider employing Course Signals or the Early Warning System (in Learn) as a means of providing feedback with tips for success on a regular basis. Early intervention is key – the earlier and more often you provide feedback, the better for the students.

5. Good practice encourages time on task.

The more good time a student spends on a task, the better they’ll understand the concept and be able to perform the same task the next time. “Good” time is purposeful time – not time spent multi-tasking or working on multiple things at once. It is time that is devoted to one thing with a strong concerted effort. Encouraging students to enhance their learning and studying skills is a great way to help them increase their overall effectiveness.

6. Good practices communicates high expectations.

Most students will work to reach the bar you set for them. If a high bar is set, they’ll work to reach it – provided if you also provide support for them at the same time. Telling students where the bar is set and how they can reach it with your support or the assistance of other offices on campus (resource rooms, help labs, etc.) will go a long way in helping your students succeed.

7. Good practice respects divers talents and ways of learning.

How you learn is not necessarily the same way your students learn, and that’s ok. Understanding where these differences lie, and using varying methods of assessment (oral projects, written papers, team work, multi-media, etc.) will allow for students with different styles and skill sets to flourish.  Purdue’s Center for Instructional Excellence has some information on learning styles, and can work with you to better understand how these can be incorporated into your classroom.


Reference: Chickering, A. W. & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7): 3-7.

Can Purdue Have a Better Course Management System?

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By in Blackboard Learn, Musings on Technology on .

Purdue University has hosted and supported the current central course management system (CMS, sometimes known as a learning management system or LMS), Blackboard (formerly WebCT) Vista since 2004.  Fall 2011 begins a welcome change to the new version of Blackboard’s CMS, Blackboard Learn (version 9.1).  Although Blackboard Learn 9 was released in April 2010, Purdue was unable to move to it previously because it did not offer multi-institutional functionality that would allow regional campuses the opportunity to administer their own systems (that functionality is due out by the end of 2011).  Blackboard Learn is the first “united” version of the CMS that phases out the Blackboard Vista line inherited from WebCT.


As a member of the Teaching & Learning group in ITaP that has done training, consulting and support for instructors using Blackboard Vista for the past several years, I’m as familiar with its drawbacks as are many of our long-suffering faculty and students.  “Too much clicking”…. “non-intuitive interface” …  “clunky and old-fashioned” … “incredibly slow” are only some of the comments we have become used to hearing.  Several of these are certainly not surprising, given that the basic interface of Vista hasn’t changed much since 2004 – that is a very long time, given the lightning speed of technology change since then.

Not that we haven’t had our own special experience with these problems, but these type of complaints don’t appear to be an isolated phenomenon.  They mirror those in a study from The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, which summarized several different studies on CMS usage and reported that the students widely complained about slowness and “ease of use.”

The Distance Education study was cited in The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010 (ECAR), which noted that “over the last few studies…the percentage of respondents who feel positive or very positive about the CMS experience has dropped from 76.5% in 2007 to 50.6% in 2010” (81).    The ECAR study did not delve more deeply into the reasons for the increased dissatisfaction for CMSs.

This issue takes on increased importance in higher ed, where the CMS has become all but ubiquitous.  The 2009 EDUCAUSE Core Data Service report notes that more than 90% of its responding institutions provides at least one central CMS – be it homegrown, commercial, or open source, and ECAR reports that 90% of students in their study had used a CMS.

But while dissatisfaction has grown, ECAR also reports that over half of their respondents described their experiences with the CMS as being “positive” or “very positive.”  Most interestingly, “respondents who use a CMS more frequently report more positive experiences using it” (83).

Whether a new paradigm based on social networking sites (SNS) will overtake the more traditional CMS remains to be seen.  There are privacy and security concerns for such a move, and students have only slowly been moving toward embracing the encroachment of academics on their social life.  CMSs are incorporating some features based on SNS, and some small percentage of faculty have begun to move their courses to SNS, yes, but for the time being – and perhaps for a while — the CMS remains the most important learning technology in higher ed.

A tool is just a tool.  It proves its worth in how it’s used.  A CMS can be implemented – and supported — badly or well, and it also be used by faculty badly, or well.  The implementation of Blackboard Learn on the Purdue campus provides faculty, students and ITaP an opportunity to make it a powerful tool for teaching and learning, shaped by the needs of our own community.   For the sake of our students, it’s an opportunity we cannot afford to waste.

To learn more about the implementation of Blackboard Learn 9 on the Purdue West Lafayette campus, see the Blackboard Learn project page.


Andri Ionnou and Robert Hannafin, “Deficiencies of Course Management Systems: Do Students Care?”  The Quarterly Review of Distance Education 9, no. 4 (2008): 415-425.

2009 EDUCAUSE Core Data Service report

The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2010

Writer: Donalee Attardo, director of instructional development, Academic Technologies, ITaP

A Game-Changer for Wireless Communications

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By in Distance Education, IT Administration, Mobile on .

A lightradio cube held in the palm of a hand

The lightradio cube Photo: CNNMoney

CNN reporter David Goldman describes a true marvel of ingenuity that is about to hit the mobile market.  It’s not the latest whiz-bang smartphone – they’re a dime a dozen now.  Rather, it will have a profound effect on the background infrastructure of mobile communications itself.  It is called lightradio. “LightRadio [is] a Rubik’s cube-sized device made by Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) that takes all of the components of a cell phone tower and compresses them down into a 2.3-inch block. Unlike today’s cell towers and antennas, which are large, inefficient and expensive to maintain, lightRadio is tiny, capacious and power-sipping.”

“The global wireless industry is spending $210 billion a year to operate their networks, and $50 billion to upgrade them, according to Alcatel-Lucent and PRTM. Networks are dealing with that cost by putting data caps in place with heavy overage charges and by raising prices on their smartphone and tablet plans.

“Despite all that spending and pressure on consumers to curb their data usage, the networks are fighting a losing battle. Mobile data usage is expected to grow 30 times in the next four to five years and 500 times in the next ten years, according to Alcatel-Lucent.” [Goldman]

I’m positively drooling when I think of the possibilities for education!  The potential for much cheaper but fast and powerful mobile connections could make the vision I sketched earlier a reality.  Think of lightradio as cloud infrastructure.  Alcatel-Lucent stripped out the power equipment from cell phone towers and moved it to centralized locations.  What remains can be shrunk to the size of a hand-held appliance and communicates back to the cloud infrastructure via microwave signal.  This produces many more advantages than just power savings:

“[The lightradio cube’s] small size and centralized operation lets wireless companies control the cubes virtually. That makes the antennas up to 30% more efficient than current cell towers. Live data about who is using the cubes can be assessed, and the antennas’ directional beams can be shifted to maximize their potential. For instance, radios may be pointed in one direction as people are coming to work in the morning and another direction as they’re leaving work at the end of the day.

“The lightRadio units also contain multi-generational antennas that can relay 2G, 3G and 4G network signals all from the same cube. That cuts down on interference and doubles the number of bits that can be sent through the air.

“Today’s cell towers, by contrast, send power in all different directions, most of which is lost, since it doesn’t reach anyone’s particular devices. They’re inefficient in other ways as well: Roughly half of the power from cell towers’ base stations is lost before it makes its way up to the antennas at the top of the tower. And they have separate antennas for 2G, 3G and 4G networks, causing interference problems….lightRadio’s smart technology and power efficiency can help cut carriers’ operating costs in half, Alcatel-Lucent believes.” [Goldman]

Trials of lightradio will begin this fall and Alcatel-Lucent expects to mass-produce the units next year.  Mobile service providers are running up against significant barriers in expanding their service – cell towers are very expensive and they are running out of room to build new ones.  I wrote earlier about the “coming storm” in mobile as the crush of demand collides with bandwidth limitations.  What people often say about the weather – wait 15 minutes and it will change – is certainly true in technology.  As frustrating as technology can sometimes be, one of the bright spots is how seemingly intractable problems can be nullified by the latest new development.  This just might be the case here.

Itpopular writes that Verizon, Purdue’s mobile partner, will begin field testing lightradio soon.  They note the following benefits:

  • Energy: lightRadio reduces energy consumption of mobile networks by up to 50% over current radio access network equipment.
  • Unwired link – The microwave backhaul link enables broadband coverage virtually anywhere using microwave to connect units back to the network.
  • Operating savings: when combined with small cells and LTE [Verizons high-speed service], a reduction of total cost of ownership (TCO) of mobile networks up to 50% is expected.
  • Enhances user bandwidth: by doubling bandwidth and simultaneously reducing the cost per bit, lightRadio makes possible new services and competitive service pricing.

So, come on, university IT Infrastructure people!  Help make my vision a reality!  Partner with a cell company to install these cubes all over campus, including inside buildings.  Get rid of your expensive, unreliable Wi-Fi networks.  Remove all the computer labs, take away all of the faculty and staff office computers (saving tons on maintenance) and negotiate great deals for all the students, faculty and staff to switch to dockable smartphones, and then run all of your services from the cloud.  Can’t you smell the savings?

Raptivity: Create Quick E-Learning Modules

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By in Classroom, Distance Education, Tools on .

Raptivity logoRaptivity can be a good solution for faculty who want to create e-learning modules quickly without having to invest a lot of time and money into building customized applications or tools. The tool does still require some investment ($296 to $12500) depending on the  amount of licenses and types of modules needed, but anyone can get started at the base level (only 12 interaction module types) for $296. However the Raptivity Essentials package ($500) includes 35 interaction module types, offering more flexibility for the price.

The Raptivity software allows for the instructor to publish interactive modules in  Flash (SWF file format). You can  easily track completion status, score, and responses for each interactivity because Raptivity creates SCORM compliant modules. Additionally all 35 of the interaction with the Essentials pack meet Section 508 guidelines for accessibility.

Raptivity utilizes a library of pre-built interactions that are completely customizable without needing to know programming. These pre-built interaction include templates for puzzles/games,  presentation aids, and surveys that can be used in any e-learning environment.

Different “Turbo Packs” can be purchased to add functionality and new interaction types to the core Raptivity software. One of these is the HTML5 pack that  allows for publishing interactions not only in Flash, but HTML5. This means that the same interaction  can be played on an iPad or iPhone in HTML5 along with mobile devices with Flash Player support.

The only limitation to getting started with the software is that you will need to use a WIN system to create the modules. However all created modules will also playback on a MAC system with the Flash Player installed. Raptivity version 5.5, 5.6, and 6.0 are fully compatible with Windows 7, but the new 6.0 version is needed to work with creating HTML5 and mobile interactions.

A WIN evaluation copy is available for download. Check it out and let us know what you think.

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