Planet Sakai

July 26, 2017

Michael Feldstein

“Alternative Pathways:” How to Rethink Vocational Education

In Phil’s analysis of California Governor Jerry Brown’s directive for the California Community College System (CCCS)1 to “take whatever steps necessary” to establish a fully online college, the punch line was as follows:

What this points to is that for a new fully-online institution to get to some meaningful level of enrollment (let’s say 20,000) in the same ballpark as these comparison schools, I estimate it would take a full decade at the least….

None of this analysis is to argue that CCCS should not try to establish a fully-online college. The goal of better serving nontraditional populations – adult students with and without jobs – is worth pursuing on its own merits.

The numbers do argue, however, for a realistic view on the challenges the face:

  • Fighting against national demographic trends for adult students of community colleges;
  • Trying to avoid cannibalizing enrollment from existing California Community Colleges;
  • Having the patience to support the schools while it take years to grow to a size with meaningful enrollment levels; and
  • Accepting that best case this approach probably recovers less than 10% of the enrollment drop since 2009.

Remember that the goal of this directive is to reach more non-traditional students. Community College Daily quotes CCCS Chancellor Eloy Oakley as saying

We have literally tens of thousands of working adults with some college and no credentials and a couple of million working adults who are unemployed or underemployed,” Oakley said. “This is a wonderful opportunity to reach a population that really needs a community college to achieve economic mobility.

So it’s worth looking at what other options may be available to address this goal. Fortuitously, Tyton Partners recently released a two-part report funded by The James Irvine Foundation called Path to Employment: Maximizing the Impact of Alternative Pathways Programs. [Registration required.] It provides a framework for analyzing the potential and critical success factors of shorter, non-degree and non-certification programs. There are various trendy Sillycon Valley buzzphrases associated with these sorts of programs, like “code academies,” “boot camps,” and “micro-credentials,” but they all fall under the broader heading of a term that has irrationally negative connotations in the United States: “vocational education.” For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to use vocational education and Tyton’s preferred term—Alternative Pathway Programs (APPs)—interchangeably.

Tyton’s report provides an interesting general framework looking at how to think about these types of programs’ abilities to address the needs of non-traditional students, with a special focus on the state of California. It’s worth taking some time to examine aspects of the report in detail.

Defining the Problem and the Goal

First, let’s make sure we’re all talking about the same people, problems, and goals. Tyton’s report doesn’t talk about “non-traditional students” but rather “low-income adults,” which it defines as having the following attributes

  • May or may not be employed
  • Earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level
  • 18 years of age or older
  • Have limited or no exposure to postsecondary education

I can’t say for certain whether that definition is one that Chancellor Oakley or Governor Brown would accept for the group of people they are trying to help, although I suspect that there is at least a strong overlap. For the remainder of this post, I will use the term “low-income adults” as defined by Tyton, since their analysis is built on that definition.

There are approximately 7 million people who fit that definition in the state of California, “which accounts for nearly 37% of the state’s entire workforce,” according to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers cited in the report.

That’s a big number. How many of those people are touched by various educational programs?

That grey space represents all the low-income adults in California who are receiving…nothing. But it’s actually worse than that in several ways, as Tyton points out in their report. First, not all of the 2.1 million California community college students fit the definition of “low-income adults.” Second, the average community college graduation rate is low. Nation-wide, it’s less than 30%.2 Particularly for low-income adults, going to school, incurring debt, and not getting a degree is worse than nothing.

This brings up a second data fidelity problem, since one does not necessarily have to complete a degree in order to gain economic benefit from coursework. A worker could go back to school for a couple of accounting classes that enable her to get a better job, for example. One person’s degree non-completion is another person’s alternative pathway program. So the numbers Tyton uses as proxies for impact potentially both overestimate the number of low-income adults that California community colleges reach and underestimating the percentage of those it reaches that it economically impacts in a net positive way, although they are accurate enough for Tyton’s goal of painting a broad-brush picture of the magnitude of unmet need. More on the data issues later.

So we have a severe problem of scaling access, even in a state that is historically known for its heavy investment in education. Even if a new online community campus were created and, under Phil’s most optimistic scenario, added another 20,000 enrollments over the next 10 years, that’s a drop in the bucket even before you consider that not all of those students would fit the “low-income adult” definition and it’s possible that considerably less than half of them would graduate. And this gap persists in spite of California spending “roughly 2.5% of the state’s entire annual budget” on educational programs for low-income students, according to Tyton’s figures.

None of this is to cast aspersions on either the community college system or the idea of an online campus. Rather, the point is that the challenge is enormous. As Tyton puts it,

[E]ven if all the spots within [community colleges and the two other identified types of] programs were allocated to low-income adults seeking to enhance their employment prospects, current capacity would support less than a third of the potential annual demand. Expanding the number of successful models that can support education-to-employment pathways for adults is imperative, both from within the current ecosystem of institutions and workforce programs and through new, innovative program models.

The idea that Tyton’s report explores, which is not positioned as an alternative to existing programs but rather another tool in the toolbox, is what they call APP:

An Alternative Pathways Program (APP) is defined as one that:

• Focuses on education and training for specific job and career pathways

• Maintains close alignment with employers and industries to facilitate job placement for participants completing the program

• Does not offer a traditional postsecondary degree or certificate

Most APPs focus on recruiting and serving participants directly, similar to colleges and universities, but they vary widely in their training model and program length, among other attributes. Some program models connect participants directly with employment opportunities. For example, the high-profile technology, design, and data “boot camps” o er a career-fair job connections model and last less than 12 weeks on average, while experiential learning programs such as apprenticeship programs prepare participants over a longer period (most are 6–12 months long) for a specific career path. Other programs do not connect participants with jobs, but they still offer training for specific career pathway and offer a certification or credential upon completion. Another set of programs focuses on general education as a baseline for specific career pathways, including programs or courses that help participants gain postsecondary credentials or learn general skills.

Tyton defines the common goal that programs under this broad umbrella could solve as creating “a path for improving the economic and employment opportunities and outcomes for low-income adults.” So these are focused, vocational education programs aimed at helping adults stuck at the bottom rung of the income latter achieve enough education to begin climbing to higher rungs. Obviously, this is not the only set of goals one could have for post-secondary education. One could be concerned about developing more informed citizens, enriching people’s intellectual lives, giving them access to career paths that they didn’t know existed, cultivating a common national culture, among others. It is both reasonable and important to talk about different educational goals that we should aspire to. But these sorts of conversations tend to take on a one-goal-fits-all tone. Take a look again at the grey space in that last graphic:

The people in that space are not currently being served by programs that address any of those goals. Tyton asks two basic questions. First, to what degree might APPs—many of which do not currently serve low-income adults—be recruited to fill in some of that grey space? And second, what are the characteristics of an APP that would make it most likely to achieve this goal? The first question can only be answered in a fairly general way, since we have no systematic tests of it yet. Tyton spends the bulk of their report on the second question by analyzing patterns across over 125 existing APPs.

I am not going to provide a detailed critique of Tyton’s analysis framework in this post. Rather, I’ll be examining the ways in which having such a framework enables more productive and nuanced discussions addressing big educational problems like helping low-income adults using tools ranging from policy to educational technologies.

The Six Pillars

Much of Tyton’s analysis rests on what they call the “six pillars” of alternative pathways programs:

  • Enrollment policies: Processes and guidelines for admitting participants
  • Participant support: Resources and methods that support participants in overcoming life challenges
  • Labor market alignment: Level of program fit with the needs of employers and the local/regional economy
  • Connections: Extent to which program connects participants with employers and other job search resources
  • Training mix: Balance of curriculum emphasis on soft skills vs. academic and technical skills
  • Financial model: Ability to generate revenue and achieve organizational stability

In and of themselves, there’s nothing earth-shaking about these categories. But stating them explicitly as part of the analytic framework enables us to do all kinds of additional important work.

First, it enables us to ask, “Is this a complete and plausible list of critical success factors for a vocational program?” For example, the work of Vincent Tinto and others connects students’ sense of belonging in campus community to their likelihood of completing their degrees. Is that principle also operative in vocational programs for low-income adults? If so, how much of an effect does it have? And can it be subsumed under “participant support,” or is it distinct and important enough to merit its own pillar?

This line of questioning brings up a second advantage of having such a framework, which is that it points to a research agenda. What sorts of participant support are most effective for helping low-income adults to complete APPs? Does the answer to that question vary by context? If so, which sorts of contextual factors matter the most? Tyton has proposed a set of preliminary hypotheses for the optimal way to address each pillar based on the research that they conducted:

The point of the hypothesis is to have a truth proposition that can be tested. For example, Tyton has listed “employer as payer” as the “optimal model” for vocational programs. Going back to Governor Brown’s online campus proposition mentioned at the top of this post, California has funding mechanisms at its disposal that many of the start-up programs examined by Tyton do not. One might float an alternative hypothesis for that pillar and then test that hypothesis through various means.

The framework also enables program designers to think about trade-offs more clearly. A classic trade-off is between enrollment policies and participant support. Tyton articulates several alternative models for each pillar. Here’s the selection of models they examine for support:

But these models don’t exist independently of the other pillars. If your program has an enrollment process that is extremely good at identifying students who come to the program already possessing many of the skills and life circumstances that would enable them to succeed if only they were given the opportunity, then you may need less investment in participant support. Conversely, if the program’s goal is to help those students who have to face the most daunting obstacles to their education, then investment in support becomes more important.

This example illustrates the point that we should interpret the word “optimal” loosely here. That large swath of grey in the earlier diagram representing all the low-income adults who are getting no education is not one homogenous blob of unmet need but rather a collection of millions of people with different strengths, needs, and circumstances. People in different situations will likely need different program designs in order to be successful. As a sector, we are thankfully past the peak of the idea that we can teach everything to everybody by posting video lectures online and calling them “MOOCs.”3

This brings us to one of the most deeply divisive terms in education: scale.

The Tyton report examines two types of scale: inputs and outputs. Access and outcomes. Let’s imagine that California were somehow able to get 100% of low-income adults enrolled in community college degree programs. That would be good, right? Well, maybe. Let’s also suppose that, in doing so, California’s degree completion rate settles at the national average of 30% for community colleges. That would mean 70% of California’s low-income adults would end up still without a degree and still (likely) without improving their economic prospects. To the contrary, many of them would have increased levels of debt they would have to pay out of their unchanged salaries. So no, scaling access is not inherently good.

For each of Tyton’s hypothesized optimal strategies in each of their hypothesized pillars, they analyze the trade-off the strategy makes between scale of access and scale of outcomes:

If a chosen strategy for a pillar has a downward-pointing red arrow, then it presents a challenge to scaling access. On-site support to students is harder to provide to many students than providing students with no support. It’s harder to scale enrollments—access—for a program that commits to high-touch student support. Then why do it? Hopefully because it improves the percentage of degree completions and other positive outcomes.

Taken together, the elements of Tyton’s framework give program designers and policy makers both a set of knobs they can turn in an effort to tune a particular program to the needs of a particular student population as well as a lens through which they can examine, test, and refine their assumptions in ways that will improve the effectiveness of those knobs and our knowledge of how the various settings interact with each other.

Of course, having knobs to twiddle is good, but being able to measure the impact of your knob twiddling is critical. As I mentioned earlier, the numbers Tyton cites for community college impact on low-income adults are less than perfect measures. While adequate for the purpose of assessing the order of magnitude of unmet need in a large state like California, the two proxies the report uses for scale or access and outcomes—number of students served and graduation rate—are not great for measuring impact at a more granular level. And it will be tough to develop better ones. Going back to the example of the person who takes a couple of accounting classes at a community college and gets a better job as a result, how would one capture that? And yet, that is precisely what we would need to do to get clearer sense of the degree to which community colleges are currently serving the needs of low-income adults and the degree to which tweaking community college programs in various ways might increase that impact. Other APP efforts will likely face similar data quality challenges. So application of the model in practice will likely require some innovation around measurement in these areas.

But here again, having a holistic model can help. Tyton highlights sustainability as the big reason to think about employer-pay business models. But if you happen to be thinking about the data problem while looking at the Tyton pillars graphic, it might occur to you that a direct relationship with employers can help with that problem. To start with, employers’ willingness to pay might be a good proxy for career progression benefits that students gain from their participation in the program. One would have to do the research, but it’s a plausible hypothesis. Second, the closer relationship with the employer makes outcomes data easier to get, perhaps in the form of anonymized aggregate data from the employers or by providing richer, longer term relationships with students that give them more incentive to provide the school with post-graduation follow-up data.

What About Ed Tech?

Nowhere does this framework explicitly address ed tech as such. And yet, ed tech decisions both large and small are often made by directly connecting a problem with a technological solution. A state wants to help reach more non-traditional students. Online learning can reach more students. So why not start an online learning program? A foundation or a college wants to help more first-generation college students make it through college. Adaptive learning programs seem to help some students in developmental math programs get past that stumbling block to their degree completion. So why not invest in adaptive learning programs?

Absent of a richer analytic framework, these efforts are more likely to fail and less likely to be reproducible because they don’t start with either a holistic understanding of the needs of the students the efforts are trying to help or a clear understanding of how various aspects of the support ecosystem interact with each other. Without a theoretical framework, you can’t construct a clear hypothesis. Without a clear hypothesis, you can’t construct a proper experiment. Without a proper experiment, you can’t learn what works and what doesn’t.

Very often, the best moment to think about ed tech is immediately after you have developed your program design and analyzed it for strengths and weaknesses. At this stage in the thinking, ed tech can potentially help by changing the laws of physics that underpin your model. OK, so low-income adult students need high-touch support which, when implemented in the traditional way, is resource intensive and therefore limits the number of students you can serve. Is there a way that technology can help provide that high-touch support at a lower resource cost? (By the way, the solution may not be to build robot advisors in the sky that can semi-read students’ minds. Instead, it might be saving advisors’ time spent doing other, non-student-facing work so that the same number of advisors have more time to serve students well.)

I have no strong opinions about the answers that the Tyton paper arrives at, but I do believe that they are asking roughly the right questions in roughly the right order. As a field, we need more of this type of program- and policy-level research and analysis to inform a wide range of strategic decisions, including but not limited to use of ed tech. It is an exemplar of a genre of educational research that we should be looking to grow, propagate, and use to inform practical decision-making.

This post is part of our Research in Translation series, which is funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions (or views) contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

  1. Disclosure: The Online Education Initiative from CCCS is a client of MindWires. The views in this and future posts represents my independent views and not OEI’s.
  2. I chose to refer to the nation-wide graduation rate rather than California’s, largely because the nation-wide number is the one that the report uses.
  3. Not very far past, but still. Baby steps.

The post “Alternative Pathways:” How to Rethink Vocational Education appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at July 26, 2017 09:48 PM

New e-Literate Genres and Grant-funded Coverage

Most of our writing here at e-Literate is not directly funded, whether by ads, subscriptions, or sponsorships. We have received grants in the past to produce e-Literate TV videos, but generally not for blogging. We recently received a new grant which includes writing here on the web site as well as video production. It has both stimulated our thinking about what kind of coverage we could be doing on e-Literate and created a circumstance that was not covered by our previous disclosure policy. We’re outlining the scope of our planned coverage here, both because we’re excited to share our plans with you and because we want to update you on how we will handle grant-related disclosure on the blog going forward.

We will be creating four content genres that will likely be ongoing here at e-Literate, whether grant-funded or not:

  1. Research in Translation: Educational research write-ups tend to be either academic journal articles, which are often hard to find and complex to evaluate for non-experts, or press coverage, which often don’t provide enough information for readers to understand and critically evaluate the scope and significance of the research. Research in Translation pieces will try to strike a middle ground by curating interesting studies, writing them up in less specialized language (or explaining essential specialized language), and providing some explanation of the scope and context of the research, methods, and the nature and strength of the results.
  2. From Mars to Venus: These will be interviews with ed tech product vendors that model the kinds of discussions educators should have when trying to understand the potential impact of the product or service. The goal is to have illuminating and useful conversation by asking questions that don’t require a lot of specialized knowledge to think of or to evaluate the answers.
  3. Learning Together: These case studies will examine ways in which college and university systems, consortia, professional associations, or other academic affinity groups are making conscious and coordinated efforts to share what they are learning with each other, test potential improvements to see how transferrable they are, and spread validated improvements beyond the little pockets in which they begin.
  4. Learning Bytes: These will be short pieces that explain key concepts necessary to understand important concepts relevant to larger issues like the ones covered in the previous three genres of coverage. For example during a Mars to Venus discussion with a vendor, we may be talking about implementation of an adaptive learning tool adapts specifically on the basis of science around getting information into the students’ long-term memory (as opposed to, for example, an adaptive learning product that focuses on identifying gaps students have in their foundational knowledge). We might produce a short Learning Bytes explainer video to accompany the main piece.

We think these categories will be generally useful for our coverage well beyond the scope of the grant and aspire to use them broadly. But we were spurred to think them up as part of the most recent grant we received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The broad mandate of the current grant is to cover ways in which technology-mediated education (or “digital education,” in the parlance of the foundation) are relevant to access-oriented colleges and universities that are working to close any achievement gaps. Much of our grant-funded coverage will address these issues directly, although some pieces will have broader relevance.

Regular readers know we have a policy of always disclosing any relevant financial interests that could be perceived as influencing our coverage. We regularly revisit our disclosure approach as our business evolves to ensure we are maintaining appropriate transparency. And whenever we encounter a new situation that causes us to modify our disclosure policy, we let you know.

For the duration of the grant, any posts in any of the genres described above will have the following text at the bottom:

This post is part of our [name of genre] series, which is funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions (or views) contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Should we receive other grants in the future, funded articles will always include a disclosure statement at the bottom. The specifics of that statement may vary based on the policies of the funder, but we will always disclose when a post is funded as well as who the funder is.

The post New e-Literate Genres and Grant-funded Coverage appeared first on e-Literate.

by Michael Feldstein at July 26, 2017 01:45 AM

July 24, 2017

Michael Feldstein

Google Classroom: Isolated adoptions for higher education institutions

At last month’s Future Trends Forum hosted by Bryan Alexander, I received several questions around the intersection of K-12 and higher education markets for learning platforms. A condensed version of my answer is that the mainline LMS vendors are seeing increased overlap (Canvas, D2L Brightspace, Blackboard, Moodle, and Schoology in particular), but that there was little overlap when it comes to the teacher-oriented Big Classrooms (Google and Facebook).

Three years ago when the buzz over Google Classroom was at its peak, I wrote several posts looking at the platform, ultimately concluding in the post titled “Why Google Classroom won’t affect institutional LMS market … yet”:

None of this argues that Google Classroom is an inferior tool – it is just not designed to replace the full-featured LMS. Remember that Google is a technology-vision company that is comfortable putting out new tools before they understand how the tools will be used. Google is also comfortable playing the long game, getting more and more instructors and faculty using, giving feedback, and pushing forward the new toolset. This process will take some time to play out – at least 2 or 3 years in my opinion before a full institutional LMS may be available. If Google like the direction Classroom usage is going.

Subsequently, Google has addressed some of the gaps in the product, including a programming interface that could allow deeper integration with student record systems used at higher ed institutions.

We’re now 3 years down the road from the initial analysis – has Google Classroom started to be adopted as a full institutional LMS?

Our partners at LISTedTECH have performed an initial analysis on this question. We do not yet have full data coverage in the same fashion as our LMS market analysis, but this early view should give some insight into higher ed adoption of the platform.

For this initial view, we are looking at institutional adoption. Where a school supports Google Classroom as their primary or secondary system. There are plenty of other cases where individual faculty choose to use the platform in an unsupported manner.

Notes from initial view:

  • A lot of the interest seems to come from developing countries where the education budgets are quite low. Malawi, Papau New Guinea, etc.
  • For the United Kingdom, the number is artificially high as 5 of the institutions are all part of Warwickshire College Group (a collection of Further Education colleges). Nevertheless, the UK has the higher number (so far) of institutional adoptions.
  • The usage of Google Classroom as a secondary system makes sense – an alternative platform that doesn’t have all the features and integrations typically needed for primary system usage – but there are cases now of primary usage.
  • In the US, the most notable adoption is the California University of Management and Sciences, a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)–certified institution in Anaheim. They support both Moodle and Google Classroom for primary LMS usage.
  • While we don’t have comprehensive coverage yet, it appears that there are some isolated cases of Google Classroom institutional adoption in higher education. The platform is still not a true LMS competitor, but we’ll keep watching.

The post Google Classroom: Isolated adoptions for higher education institutions appeared first on e-Literate.

by Phil Hill at July 24, 2017 05:16 PM

July 22, 2017

Dr. Chuck

New Coursera Specialization – Web Applications For Everybody

Now that we are well into the rollout of the Python 3.0 version of Python for Everybody. It is a good time to let you know about our next big thing beyond PY4E.

We are preparing a new specialization called “Web Applications for Everybody” (WA4E) that covers HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL, JavaScript and JQuery to develop web applications. WA4E assumes that you have a basic understanding of programming at least through Chapter 10 of Python for Everybody (Course #1 and #2 in the Specialization).

We teach both back end and front-end Web Application development. There are extensive auto-graders just like in PY4E and all of the course material is freely reusable under Creative Commons so you can use the material to teach your own classes if you like. There is a preview web site at where you can get a sense of what will be contained in the specialization.

We expect that the specialization will be available for registration in a few weeks and the first session should be starting by October 1 (subject to change).

If you have completed Python For Everybody and want to prepare for the new Web Applications for Everybody (WA4E) specialization, I highly recommend that you take Colleen van Lent’s Web Design for Everybody (WD4E).

Colleen and I have been planning a coordinated track of three specializations that can take you from knowing no programming at all through being ready to work as an entry level web developer. It has taken us two years to cover this this multi-specialization curriculum for beginning developers:

Internet History, Technology, and Security (IHTS)
Python for Everybody (PY4E)
Web Design for Everybody (WD4E)
– Web Applications for Everybody (WA4E)

Colleen and I are both personally committed to making technology education available to anyone who wants to put in the time and effort.

I will do a quick review/summary of HTML and CSS at the beginning of the WA4E specialization but I highly recommend taking Colleen’s WD4E specialization since she covers essential front-end skills like UI layout, responsive design and accessibility. If you want to valuable as a professional web developer, you should be able to build solid front-end (Colleen’s WD4E) code and solid back-end (WA4E) code.

I need to thank all of the people who have helped make this new specialization possible. Building the new specialization has been very much a team effort including the staff at the University of Michigan, the current mentors in Python for Everybody, and the staff at Coursera. It is an honor to work with such a talented and dedicated team.

Stay tuned for further announcements and I hope to see you online.

by Charles Severance at July 22, 2017 08:32 PM

Sakai-12 ContentItem in the Rich Text Editor

The Sakai ContentItem Support in the text editor is now in master and on nightly:

It features a very pretty integration between Sakai and Tsugi using Content Item.

Here is a video demo:

Here is the JIRA:

Here is the test plan:

And if you have five hours you can watch the most boring video in the world – I live streamed much of the work last week to make this work in Sakai:

It is super boring. It is an experiment I am playing with in live coding. I rarely narrate because I am concentrating but you can see what I do. Sometimes I swear – be warned.

by Charles Severance at July 22, 2017 08:14 PM

July 18, 2017

Steve Swinsburg

An experiment with fitness trackers

I have had a fitness tracker of some descript for many years. In fact I still have a stack of them. I used to think they were actually tracking stuff accurately. I compete with friends and we all have a good time. Lately though, I haven’t really seen the fitness benefits I would have expected from pushing myself to get higher and higher step counts. I am starting to think it is bullshit.

I’ve have the following:

  1. Fitbit Flex
  2. Samsung Gear Wear
  3. Fitbit Charge HR
  4. Xiaomi Mi Band
  5. Fitbit Alta
  6. Moto 360
  7. Phone in pocket setup to send to Google Fit.
  8. Garmin ForeRunner 735XT (current)

Most days I would be getting 12K+ just by doing my daily activities (with a goal of 11K): getting ready for work and children ready for school (2.5K), taking the kids to school (1.2K), walking around work (3K), going for a walk at lunch (2K), picking up the kids and doing stuff around the house of an evening (3.5K) etc.

My routine hasn’t really changed for a while.

However, two weeks ago I bought the Garmin Forerunner 735XT, mainly because I was fed up with the lack of Android Wear watches in Australia as well as Fitbit’s lack of innovation. I love Android Wear and Google Fit and have many friends on Fitbit, but needed something to actually motivate me to exercise more.

The first thing I noticed is that my step count is far lower than any of the above fitness trackers. Like seriously lower. We are talking at least 30% or more lower. As I write this I am sitting at ~8.5K steps for the day and I have done all of the above plus walked to the shops and back (normally netting me at least 1.5K) and have switched to a standing desk at work which is about 3 metres closer to the kitchen that my original desk. So negligible distance change. The other day I even played table tennis at work (you should see my workplace) and it didn’t seem to net me as many steps as I would have expected.

Last night I went for a 30 min walk and snatched another 2K, which is pretty accurate given the distance and my stride length. I think the Fitbit would have given me double that.

This is interesting.

Either the Garmin is under-reporting or the others are over-reporting. I suspect the latter. The Garmin tracker cost me close to $600 so I am a bit more confident of its abilities than the $15 Mi band.

So, tomorrow I am performing an experiment.

As soon as I wake up I will be wearing my Garmin watch, Fitbit Charge HR right next to it, and keeping my phone in my pocket at all times. Both the watch and Fitbit will be setup for lefthand use. The next day, I will add more devices to the mix.

I expect the Fitbit to get me to at least 11K, Google fit to be under that (9.5K) and Garmin to be under that again (8K). I expect the Mi band to be a lot more than the Fitbit.

The fitness tracker secret will be exposed!

by steveswinsburg at July 18, 2017 12:46 PM

July 08, 2017

Dr. Chuck

Experiment: Live Streaming Coding – SakaiJuly 2017

I am going to do a weird experiment in July. Sakai-12 is code freezing at the end of the month and I am going to put some work into adding some pretty cool features into Sakai-12 in terms of standards compliance. The first bits will be around ContentItem and if I have time I will work on the Outcomes and Membership services.

But one thing I am going to do is live stream my coding efforts. I will announce the streams on Twitter @drchuck.

I also have a PlayList where the recorded streams will be stored. I have a few there already.

by Charles Severance at July 08, 2017 06:14 PM

July 07, 2017

Adam Marshall

Innovative use of WebLearn – Oxford Online Programme in Sleep Medicine

In 2014 Oxford University approved a brand new postgraduate programme in Sleep Medicine. The two-year online programme leads to a postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or a Master of Science degree (MSc).

The programme is hosted by the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi), at the University of Oxford which “brings together world leading expertise in basic and human sleep and circadian research and in the evaluation and management of sleep disorders” (Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, 2016).

Learning technologists in Medical Sciences and IT Services were involved in building a customised portal and customised online course components in WebLearn. In tandem with the course development team, the learning technologists have tried hard to design a programme that attempts to imitate the face-to-face, personalised Oxford learning experience.

This approach is achieved through small student groups, moderated online discussions, live webinars and collaboration with subject specialists to reflect the most recent research findings. It was particularly important to employ aspects of personalisation, e.g. showing students only material that is relevant to them, at the appropriate time (depending on current module, week etc.).

In the structure of the online modules, the WebLearn ‘Lessons tool’ was used to offer the pedagogical advantage of tailoring a learning pathway for the students, with integrated content, relevant activities and assessment opportunities.

The customised interface and personalisation features were realised by taking advantage of WebLearn’s ‘behind-the-scenes’ RESTful web services API and rendered using a popular open source JavaScript framework called Angular 2. A very modest amount of development work was undertaken by the WebLearn team to make this approach possible.


by Jill Fresen at July 07, 2017 11:13 AM

June 27, 2017

Apereo Foundation

June 20, 2017

Adam Marshall

System Improvements: WebLearn v11-ox6

WebLearn was upgraded on 20th June 2017 to version 11-ox6. We apologise for any inconvenience caused by the disruption.

Here is a list of some of the improvements:

  • Single file upload limit is now 250MB (Resources, Assignments etc.)
  • A link to one’s personal Calendar has been added in the top right Top Right “personal” drop down

  • Anonymous Submission sites
    • Site Info tool cannot now be removed in error
    • It is now not possible to change the Admin Site – all ‘submission’ sites are forced to be managed by Exams and Assessment
  • Favourite sites are now clickable

  • One can how hide / or un-hide one’s self in a site via Home > Preferences > Sites
  • Replay (Recorded Lectures)
    • All instances now have the same ‘play button’ icon
    • Individual recordings can now be inserted into Lessons (using IMS LTI Content Item Message)
  • Citations List improvements
  • Site Members will display the photos which have been set in a user’s Profile by default (as there are currently no available ‘official photos’)
  • Interactive videos (and other content types) from can now be used within Lessons (and Resources): “H5P makes it easy to create, share and reuse HTML5 content and applications. H5P empowers everyone to create rich and interactive web experiences more efficiently“. H5p includes
    • Interactive YouTube videos (annotate, ask questions etc.)
    • Image juxtaposition
    • Drag and drop / Drag the words
    • Hotspots
    • Many many more content types

  • Resources:
    • The superfluous recycle bin link has been removed
    • Folders can be expanded on a mobile phone
    • Emoticon images inserted pre-WebLearn 11 will now appear correctly
  • Forums and Topics are correctly copied during ‘Duplicate site’ and ‘Import from site’
  • Researcher Training Tool
    • Search Results page is now fully responsive
    • Improved rendering in Internet Explorer 11
  • Lessons tool: ‘Add section break above’ no longer results two blocks appearing below



by Adam Marshall at June 20, 2017 02:01 PM

June 16, 2017

Apereo OAE

OAE at Open Apereo 2017

The Open Apereo 2017 conference took place last week in Philadelphia and it provided a great opportunity for the OAE Project team to meet and network for three whole days. The conference days were chock full of interesting presentations and workshops, with the major topic being the next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE). Malcolm Brown's keynote was a particularly interesting take on this topic, although at that point the OAE team was still reeling from having a picture from our Tsugi meeting come up during the welcome speech - that was a surprising start for the conference! We made note about how the words 'app store' kept popping up in presentations and in talks among the attendees again and again - perhaps this is something we can work towards offering within the OAE soon? Watch this space...

The team also met with people from many other Apereo projects and talked about current and future integration work with several project members, including Charles Severance from Tsugi, Opencast's Stephen Marquard and Jesus and Fred from Big Blue Button. There's some exciting work to be done in the next few weeks... While Quetzal was released only a few days before the conference, we are now teeming with new ideas for OAE 14!

After the conference events were over on Wednesday, we gathered together to have a stakeholders meeting where we discussed strategy, priorities and next steps. We hope to be delivering some great news very soon.

During the conference, the OAE team also provided assistance to attendees in using the Open Apereo 2017 group hosted on *Unity that supported the online discussion of presentation topics. A lot of content was created during the conference days so be sure to check it out if you're looking for slides and/or links to recorded videos. The group is public and can be accessed from here.

OAE team members who attended the conference were Miguel and Salla from *Unity and Mathilde, Frédéric and Alain from ESUP-Portail.

June 16, 2017 12:00 PM

June 12, 2017

Apereo Foundation

June 05, 2017

Adam Marshall

Copyright support site in WebLearn – updated June 2017

The Copyright support site in WebLearn has been updated with a new ‘look’ and links to the latest information about copyright requirements, with specific reference to the use of learning materials in a virtual learning environment. The site is publicly available.

The support site in WebLearn is being developed in conjunction with the Bodleian Libraries; it provides links to copyright guidance currently being updated and expanded by Bodleian librarians and staff in the University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM) division, in line with the provisions of the University’s CLA (Copyright Licensing Agency) licence.

The message is:

  • Provision of resources (images, text, articles etc.) for students in WebLearn falls largely under the terms of the CLA licence. For queries contact your college or departmental contact person.
  • Be aware that even if a journal article is your own work, you may have signed away the copyright to a publisher.
  • Always check the terms and conditions of the item, or failing that, request permission from the rights holder.
  • Consider releasing your own material under a Creative Commons licence to make the usage conditions clear to others.

More information:

by Jill Fresen at June 05, 2017 09:43 AM

June 01, 2017

Apereo OAE

Apereo OAE Quetzal is now available!

The Apereo Open Academic Environment (OAE) project is delighted to announce a new major release of the Apereo Open Academic Environment; OAE Quetzal or OAE 13.

OAE Quetzal is an important release for the Open Academic Environment software and includes many new features and integration options that are moving OAE towards the next generation academic ecosystem for teaching and research.


LTI integration

LTI, or Learning Tools Interoperability, is a specification that allows developers of learning applications to establish a standard way of integrating with different platforms. With Quetzal, Apereo OAE becomes an LTI consumer. In other words, users (currently only those with admin rights) can now add LTI standards compatible tools to their groups for other group members to use.

These could be tools for tests, a course chat, a grade book - or perhaps a virtual chemistry lab! The only limit is what tools are available, and the number of LTI-compatible tools is growing all the time.

Video conferencing with Jitsi

Another important feature introduced to OAE in Quetzal is the ability to have face-to-face meetings using the embedded video conferencing tool, Jitsi. Jitsi is an open source project that allows users to talk to each other either one on one or in groups.

In OAE, it could have a number of uses - maybe a brainstorming session among members of a globally distributed research team, or holding office hours for students on a MOOC. Jitsi can be set up for all the tenancies under an OAE instance, or on a tenancy by tenancy basis.


Password recovery

This feature that has been widely requested by users: the ability to reset their password if they have forgotten it. Now a user in such a predicament can enter in their username, and they will receive an email with a one-time link to reset their password. Many thanks to Steven Zhou for his work on this feature!

Dockerisation of the development environment

Many new developers have been intimidated by the setup required to get Open Academic Environment up and running locally. For their benefit, we have now created a development environment using Docker containers that allows newcomers to get up and running much quicker.

We hope that this will attract new contributions and let more people to get involved with OAE.

Try it out

OAE Quetzal can be experienced on the project's QA server at It is worth noting that this server is actively used for testing and will be wiped and redeployed every night.

The source code has been tagged with version number 13.0.0 and can be downloaded from the following repositories:


Documentation on how to install the system can be found at

Instruction on how to upgrade an OAE installation from version 12 to version 13 can be found at

The repository containing all deployment scripts can be found at

Get in touch

The project website can be found at The project blog will be updated with the latest project news from time to time, and can be found at

The mailing list used for Apereo OAE is You can subscribe to the mailing list at

Bugs and other issues can be reported in our issue tracker at

June 01, 2017 05:00 PM

May 26, 2017


Interested in Transitioning a Sakai Course Site to Canvas?

There have been several inquiries by faculty wishing to move their current Sakai course to the Canvas Learning Management System. The following guide has been prepared to help those interested in making this transition. At any time, if you have questions or need additional assistance, please contact ATS, 116 Pearson Hall,, 302-831-0640. Sakai to… Continue reading

by Nancy O'Laughlin at May 26, 2017 05:57 PM

May 23, 2017

Ian Boston

Ultrasonic Antifouling

The board design went off to PCBWay via web browser and 5 days later 5 boards arrived by DHL from China. The whole process was unbelievably smooth. This was the first time I had ordered boards using the output of KiCad so I was impressed with both KiCad and PCBWay. The boards were simple, being 2 layer, but complex being large with some areas needing to carry high amps. So how did I do ?


I made 1 mistake on the footprints. The 2 terminal connectors for the 600v ultrasound output didn’t have pads on both sides. This didn’t matter as being through hole the connectors soldered ok. Other than that PCBWay did exactly what I had instructed them to. Even the Arduino Mega footprint fitted perfectly.

How did it perform ?


Once populated the board initially appeared to perform well. Random frequency from 20KHz to 150KHz worked. The drive waveform from the Mostfet drivers into the Mosfet was near perfect with no high frequency ringing on the edges with levels going from 0-12v and back in much less than 1us. However I noticed some problems with the PWM control. There was none. With PWM pulses at 10% the MOSFETS would turn on for 90% of the time and drive a wildly resonant waverform through the coil. Rather like a little hammer hitting a bit pendulum and having it feedback into resonance. On further investigation the scope showed that when the Mosfet tried to switch off the inductor carried on producing a flyback voltage causing the MostFet to continue conducting till the opposing mosfet turned on. Initially I thought this was ringing, but it turned out a simple pair of 1A high frequency Schottky diodes across each winding of the primary coil returned the energy to the the 12V line eliminating the fly back. Now I had ringing, at 10MHz, but control over the power output via a digital pot. I could leave it at that, but this 10MHz would probably transmit and cause problems with other equipment on the boat.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 08.06.52

I think the difference between the red and blue signals is due to slightly different track lengths on each Mosfet. The shorter track not ringing nearly as much shown in the blue signal. The longer track with more capacitance ringing more and inducing a parasitic ring in the blue track. To eliminate this 2 things were done. Traditional Snubber RC networks had little or no impact. So a 100nF cap as close as possible to the Drain and Source on each Mosfet (RPF50N6) eliminated some of the high frequency, and a 100uF cap on the center tap to store the energy returned to the 12V line by flyback. This reduced the peak current.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 09.41.32

There is still some ringing, but now the frequency is less and it is less violent. The ripple on the 12V line is now less than 0.2v and filtered out by decoupling caps on the supply pins to the Ardiono Mega. All of these modifications have been accommodated on the underside of the board.

Screen Shot 2017-05-23 at 07.40.29

The board now produces 60W per transducer between 20 and 150 KHz at 50% PWM drawing 5A from the supply. This is very loud on my desk and far louder than the Ultrasound Antifouling installed in Isador, which seems to work. I will need to implement a control program that balances power consumption against noise levels against effectiveness, but that is all software. There are sensors on board for temperature, current and voltage so it should be possible to have the code adapt to its environment.

Board Layout mistakes

Apart from the circuit errors, I made some mistakes in the MoSFET power connections. Rev2 of the board will have the MosFETS placed as close to the primary of the transformer with identical track lengths. Hopefully this will eliminate the ringing seen on the red trace and made both line the blue trace.

I have 4 spare unpopulated PCBs. If I do a rev2 board, I will use PCBWay again. Their boards were perfect, all the mistakes were mine.



by Ian at May 23, 2017 07:02 AM

May 18, 2017

Sakai Project

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

(posted on behalf of Matt Clare, Brock University, Chair of Sakai Accessibility Working Group)


Thursday, May 18 2017 is Global Accessibility Awareness Day.


Sakai should have a positive impact on all who encounter it, a key part of this goal is how accessible Sakai is.


Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) and part of GAAD is building awareness of what we all can do to promote access for, and inclusion of, people with different abilities.


Sakai has a good history of accessibility but recent versions of Sakai have not been released with a thorough review of the accessibility and to what degree it meets recognized international standard like the WCAG 2.  I’m pleased to share that thanks to community efforts in fundraising over $61,000 and 60 hours of development work Sakai’s accessibility has been reviewed by a recognized accessibility reviewer, SSB Bart, and our plans are to deliver Sakai 12 with an accessibility compliance statement.


by NealC at May 18, 2017 11:51 AM

May 10, 2017


Sakai Status – 10 May 2017 UPDATE

An earlier reported issue of the Sites button and related Favorites list has been resolved as of 1:25pm EST.


Remember – there are several ways to get to your course sites:

  • Use of the Sites button (waffle icon) in the top right
  • Use of the Favorites (starred) sites in the Sites Favorites tab
  • Use Overview>Membership to see all course sites
  • Use Overview>My Worksite Setup to navigate to course sites

If you continue to experience issues, be sure to log out and/or restart your device and then contact the HelpDesk if you continue to experience problems.

by Dave E. at May 10, 2017 05:26 PM

Sakai Status – 10 May 2017

Some faculty and students have reported an issue with Sakai’s Sites button and Favorites list.  The issue has been identified and is being worked on presently.  Faculty and students can still access their courses by using Overview>Membership after logging in:


A status with new information will be posted as soon as it’s available.

by Dave E. at May 10, 2017 04:55 PM