UMass MOOC Features Adaptive Technology

If you've ever been in a course and struggled because you just aren't "getting it," the reason might be less your ability than the way in which the material is being presented. New technology is now allowing online course environments to analyze how individual students learn, customizing instruction to individualized learning strategies.

The College of Advancing and Professional Studies (CAPS) at the University of Massachusetts Boston has teamed up with USDLA 21st Century Sponsor, Synaptic Global Learning (SGL), to use the new learning management system, Adaptive Mobile Online Learning (AMOL), to deliver the first adaptive Massive Online Open Course (a-MOOC) ever offered.

The course, launched March 25, is Molecular Dynamics for Computational Discoveries In Science," and is taught by Nishikant Sonwalkar, a scientist, academician and adjunct professor of physics at UMass Boston. Sonwalkar, who teaches on both the graduate and undergraduate level, has a long history of success as an educational innovator. His company, Synaptic Global Learning, sought UMass Boston as a partner to leverage UMB's reputation for excellence in eLearning design and to extend UMB's mission as a public university. Sonwalkar and SGL are providing use of the AMOL learning platform cost-free to UMass Boston, and the course is open to anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, at no charge.

"It is about eliminating the fear and frustration so many experience as they learn," says Sonwalkar. "The course name alone might scare off some, but the MOOC assumes no prior knowledge and virtually will hold the students' hands as they go through the materials, analyzing learning strategies then adapting a teaching approach to raise each student's level of success. This accessible MOOC is the first of its kind."

"MOOCs are popping up all over the country, from the most prestigious colleges and universities to smaller schools," says Alan Girelli, the Director of the Center for Innovation and eLearning at CAPS. "What's unique is that this MOOC employs brain-based adaptive learning technology to teach each learner as he or she learns best."

Sonwalkar adds that "one size does not fit all" but he maintains that "changing the pedagogy as we've done within our Adaptive Mobile Online platform will result in higher completion rates and faster learning."

For more course information:

Open Professional Development

I was asked to do some professional development at another college and part of what they are looking to do is use more open educational resources (OER). They would like the sessions to use OER in order to encourage adoption of open educational resources.

It is not an unusual request. I have found a number of professional development planning projects online and tips on encouraging adoption of OER through professional development.

Teachers need help getting through the volume of resources available. Professional development sessions can introduce useful tools that have been vetted and get people started in using them.

As with any technology, faculty have varied comfort levels with it. I'm not a big advocate of bell curves, but it does seem to work with professional development. You need your faculty "champions" to help others see the advantages in the tech. Faculty-to-faculty PD always seems to have a better acceptance rate.

I wouldn't introduce OER into a department or school that didn't already have some culture of professional development. Faculty and administrators (in some cases, students) should be involved. PD should be a regular occurrence and not a once a semester or year "day" full of workshops.

The best professional development doesn't just train people. It also empowers them. People need to hear the success stories from their peers.

    More at

Using Moodle for Online Professioanl Development

Moodle is a open source learning management software (LMS) package that allows course or training content to be hosted on the Internet and it provides the tools that students and instructors need to successfully complete the coursework.

This video (with Tim Kellers at NJIT) is a demonstration version of the iOS Application Design course.

(View on YouTube and select 1080p playback in Full Screen Mode to view the recorded session more clearly.)

Academia and the MOOC

"Academia and the MOOC" is an course I will be facilitating for NJEDge.Net using the Canvas Network.

"Academia and the MOOC" is itself a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) although we will be capping enrollment at a maximum of 2000 participants. (So, it is more of a Big Open Online Course.)

MOOCs are a huge topic in academia right now, but many schools are still wondering if they should be offering them or how they will deal with this alternative to their own offerings.

Can a course where the participants and the course materials are distributed across the web and the courses are "open" and offered at no cost to a very large number of participants who do not receive institutional credit be a worthwhile venture for a college?

The purpose of this particular MOOC is to gather a large group of people from academia who have an interest in this movement and give them information about MOOCs to get them thinking and discussing their impact on education.

This course will begin with some background in the history and development of MOOCs. Then, we will examine MOOCs from the perspectives of five academic roles (teacher, designer, support, administration and student) and we will critique some case studies of successful (and "failed") courses that have been offered. Throughout the course, we will consider how MOOCs might impact those roles and an institution in the near future.

I am referring to this offering as a "course" because it's a term we all understand, but I really believe this is not a course. If you associate courses with textbooks, assignments, grades, assessment, credits and all that comes with those things, then it is not a course because none of those elements exist in this experience. It might be better to think of the "C" in this MOOC as a Conversation, Community or Colloquium. Discussion, as with most online courses, will be at the heart of the experience.

The course is set to launch April 15, 2013 and will run for 4 weeks. It is open and free to anyone interested in this topic.

To register, go to

Microsoft Want You to Get Socl

logoLast December, Microsoft opened up registration for its own social network Socl to users with Microsoft and Facebook accounts. They had beta tested it with Microsoft employees and college students before that. As social networks go, it's more Pinterest than Facebook or Google+. The landing pages are photo collages.

Will it compete with Facebook? I don't think it was designed to compete. It comes from Microsoft Research FUSE Labs. I read that their research was in social search with students and more related to learning. I don't see how that research led to Socl which seems to a service where people connect/follow others over shared interests via image collages. In other words, it's Pinterest.

I could mock Microsoft for that but on their own Socl "About" page, they say that Socl is not designed to compete with the established social networks. They describe it as an “experimental research project with a minimal set of features.”

One of those features is “parties” which lets groups participate in online "video viewing parties." It's no Google+ Hangouts but I do see a similar strategy with Socl to what Google is doing with Plus. Both companies are trying to create a cross-platform ecosystem where all the parts are connected. Google has had some success with that. Some. Can Microsoft connect their mail, Bing, Socl etc. across hardware (Surface tablets) and software (Windows 8)?