2U Announces a Deal with RIT to Deliver an Online Master’s Degree in Architecture

IBL News | New York

Less than thirty days from the third quarter of earnings calls, 2U (NASDAQ: TWOU) announced yesterday a new partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) to deliver an online Master of Architecture degree. The program is 2U’s first architecture offering and represents a new vertical for the company.

With the firm’s stock price currently trading around $16.43, 2U has been unable to gain investors’ trust and recover most of the two-thirds of the value that evaporated after the earnings call on July 30th.  The Lanham, Maryland–based company now has a market capitalization of $1.04 billion – it reached $4.7 billion a year ago, with the stock traded at $80.49.

The deal reported on Monday with RIT didn’t impact 2U’s stock price. Top stories and financial alerts continued to bounce around investors’ class-action lawsuits alleging misleading statements made between February and July.

RIT Architecture Online is scheduled to be launched in September 2020. Rochester Institute of Technology faculty will deliver the curriculum through a combination of asynchronous and live classes on 2U’s online platform.

“We are very delighted to begin this significant and important collaboration with 2U,” said Dennis A. Andrejko, Head of RIT’s Department of Architecture. “Partnering with 2U can certainly allow us to add momentum in advancing our sustainability and resiliency agenda, while inextricably linking this to the opportunities, power, and value of design inquiry and architecture.”

On behalf of 2U, Andrew Hermalyn, President of Global Partnerships, indicated: “Working together, we will take the best of the RIT architecture program online and into the digital era, and prepare the next generation of leaders in the field to address the most pressing sustainability and design challenges.”

Coursera for Campus Is Not an Alternative LMS to Blackboard, Canvas and Moodle, Says Maggioncalda

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

“Coursera for Campus is not a full-featured LMS,”
said Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera, during the announcement event in India, on October 3rd. “We expect many universities to stay on their LMSs.”  

According to the company, Coursera for Campus’ LMS is designed to supplement the existing Canvas, Blackboard and Moodle systems.

In fact, its main utility refers to authoring content for private audiences such as residential students, alumni, faculty members, and staff.

The SSO (Single Sign-On) and APIs are apparently intended to facilitate further integrations. The collection of distinctive features include analytics, live-hands on labs, in-browser coding, plagiarism detection, Jupyter Notebooks and gradebook integration.

Jeff Maggioncalda insisted on the message of collaboration and not being an alternative LMS.

So far 20 partner universities, including Duke and Illinois, have piloted Coursera for Campus, and 1o additional universities are using an early version of it.

Last week, when Coursera for Business was advertised, representatives of the company highlighted that this new LMS was designed to deliver online courses and interactive lessons better than most LMSs.

“We’re talking about a potential major disruption to the LMS market,” Leah Belsky, Coursera’s Vice President of Enterprise said on EdSurge. “We don’t have all the features of an LMS but what we do have is all the tools to create cutting-edge interactive learning experiences.”

Michael Feldstein, a known consultant and author at the eLiterate blog, doubted that universities will replace their learning management systems with Coursera’s. “MOOC platforms are interesting and have some innovative features, but they are neither mature for their original purpose nor tuned for the broad range of usage that a campus LMS must serve,” Michael Feldstein wrote.



Learners at Coursera, Canvas and Blackboard Will Be Able to Ask Alexa for Course Updates

IBL News | New York

“Alexa, when is my next assignment due?”

Coursera will introduce a new tool for Alexa in October, taking advantage of the new API, Alexa Education Skills, created by Amazon for any edtech company.

Along with the MOOC portal, CanvasLMS, Blackboard, Kickboard and ParentSquare plan to activate this feature soon.

By simply asking Alexa, learners will get updates based on the latest information on their student account.

Voice assistants, like Alexa and Siri, are being rapidly adopted.

Available to all learners with a Coursera account and Amazon Alexa-enabled device, this tool will help learners access course assignment and quiz scores, due dates, and progress updates, among other pieces of information.

“Recognizing this trend, we introduced a new tool that helps learners fit education into their daily lives, we’ve taken another exciting step toward our mission of providing transformational learning experiences to anyone, anywhere,” Alex Sanchez, Product Management, Mobile Experiences, and Emerging Technology at Coursera, wrote in a blog post.

The Alexa Education Skill API integrates with Learning Management Systems (LMS), Student Information Systems (SIS), Classroom Management providers, and massively open online course (MOOC) platforms.

The new API will be available in preview by invitation only for the following interfaces:

  • Alexa.Education.Profile.Student
  • Alexa.Education.Course
  • Alexa.Education.Coursework
  • Alexa.Education.School.Communication
  • Alexa.Education.Grade.Course (coming soon)
  • Alexa.Education.Grade.Coursework (coming soon)


Automattic, the Company Behind WordPress, Valued at $3 Billion After Its Last Funding

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, WooCommerce, the Jetpack plugin and soon Tumblr, announced on Thursday that it closed a 
$300 million funding round in Series D from Salesforce Ventures. The investment puts Automattic’s valuation at $3 billion post-funding.

Today WordPress powers more than 34% of all sites on the web, claims Automattic CEO and WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg [in the picture].

The company will have close to 1,200 employees when the Tumblr acquisition closes. In August, Automattic purchased Tumblr from Verizon for $3 million, a fraction of what it was worth when Yahoo bought it for $1.1 billion in 2013. Tumblr is seen as complementary to WordPress.com; therefore, no major changes are planned.

The freemium business model with an open-source philosophy at its core has been working very well for Automattic Inc.

WordPress, as a free open-source software platform, is owned by a non-profit group called The WordPress Foundation, while the popular domain WordPress.com is privately held.

Automattic makes most of its money by selling subscriptions to software services related to the WordPress platform, like WooCommerce, an open-source e-commerce plugin for WordPress; Jetpack, a customization and security plugin for WordPress; and enterprise WordPress for businesses, such as WordPress.com VIP. It also gets revenues by selling advertising against some of the free blogs that users create on WordPress.com.

Google and CompTIA Create a Dual Credential for Learners Seeking for Entry-Level Jobs in IT

IBL News | New York

Google announced on Thursday that it was teaming up with the nonprofit trade association CompTIA to provide a dual badge of completion for entry-level roles and support jobs in IT.

Learners who complete the Google IT Support Professional Certificate and pass the CompTIA A+ certification exams will have access to this new credential from CompTIA and Google.

This dual badge, which can be posted on LinkedIn, is intended for job seekers to stand out to IT recruiters and better attract the attention of potential employers.

Google’s IT Support Professional Certificate –a six-month program available on Coursera– aligns well with the training in CompTIA’s certification exams, according to students without a university degree.

“IT support skills are highly teachable, and a four-year degree isn’t typically required to build a successful career in this field,” said Natalie Van Kleef Conley, Product Lead at Google’s program. We knew that if we could train beginners on technical skills, we could create paths to real jobs—both at Google and at other companies across the country.”

In the United States, there are more than 215,000 open IT support roles resulting from the exponential growth of technology usage, according to CompTIA’s data.


• IT Takes Two: CompTIA and Google Put High-Growth Tech Jobs Within Reach

• CompTIA and Google Team Up to Deepen Talent Pool of IT Support Professionals





2U Will Release More Data As The OPM Industry Will Face Growing Scrutiny

Mikel Amigot | New York

2U, the most visible company in the OPM (Online Program Management) industry, announced on September 11 what it called “an unprecedented new Framework for Transparency”, which “will offer students, universities, and policymakers data on outcomes, quality, institutional independence, and more for the degree and non-degree offerings.”

“2U becomes the first OPM to openly call for, and embrace, greater transparency,” the Lanham, Maryland-based company said in a statement.

“We call upon other OPMs across the industry to join us in committing to greater transparency,” 2U Co-Founder and CEO Christopher “Chip” Paucek added.

The new framework is grounded in six pillars: University Oversight & Accountability; Marketplace Openness; Access; Affordability; Quality; and Outcomes.

Facing growing scrutiny, 2U’s move isn’t as big as it looks, because the company is publicly traded (NASDAQ: TWOU) and it needs to recover investors’ confidence, after losing over half of its market value in the last seven weeks.

Secondly, the controversial company needs to self-regulate, getting ahead of potential regulatory changes.

In addition, it would be an attempt to put pressure on competitors such as Pearson, Wiley, Academic Partnerships, Noodle and Bisk to do the same.

“Paucek believes that releasing more information about the company and its operations will help prove just how ‘excellent’ it is,” wrote Doug Lederman in Inside Higher Ed.

A Public Database of Online Program Contracts

In relation to the OPM industry, the Century Foundation yesterday published a report titled “Dear Colleges: Take Control of Your Online Courses.” It elaborated on the relationships between 79 public colleges and OPM companies and included a database of scores of contracts outlining the terms of the arrangements.

“Our hope is that this action-focused report will assist schools and those who care about them to jumpstart a paradigm shift in how online education in the United States is done,” the Foundation said.



Creating Compelling Slides: Bullet Point the Content or Read Scripts?

Marie I. Rose | IBL News

One of the most time-consuming tasks in instructional design is creating slides.

Slides are the backbone of any course. We usually outline the talking points, script the visuals and convey important information for the students.

Many times slides are accompanied by texts to be teleprompted by lecturers. This mostly depends on their personality and teaching style.

The dilemma is whether to bullet point the content or read scripts.

However, one requirement is certain: we need to create killer visuals. Layouts, texts, pictures, icons, videos, graphics, animations, colors, and fonts need to be compelling. And flipping through slides (Keynote or PowerPoint) should result in an engaging teaching experience.

Let us share some of our recommendations when designing slides:

  • Choose wide-screen format 16:9.
  • Use bullets or very short sentences. Do not add paragraphs of information on your slides: learners become distracted and stop listening. Use multiple slides for a topic if the content is too long.
  • Pick sans serif fonts: they are easier to read and seem more friendly. Some of the classics are Arial, Geneva, Lucida Grande, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS, and Verdana.At IBL our favorites are Roboto, Open Sans, Lato, Fira Sans, Libre Franklin, and Karla… Never Helvetica!

    Regarding size, use fonts larger than 22 points.

    The Fontsquirrel.com website includes many free fonts.
  • Choose 2-3 colors to that work well together. Use the color palette combinations or pick your brand’s color if the course is an extension of your activities. Adobe has a good color picker. Coolors.co is another good generator.

It’s All About Increasing Learners’ Engagement in Courses and Programs

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

A measure to calibrate the success of a learning platform and an ongoing program is the progress of engagement. If engagement improves, then revenues go up and administrators, instructors, and students smile.

edX, for example, has seen an 11 % increase in their engagement rate in the last two years. Now it claims a 42 % engagement rate.

The question is what truly generates engagement in courses.  Three are three main factors, in our view:

  • Content quality along with the design of the course
  • Platform’s pedagogical technology and new features
  • Content marketing and SEO campaigns to allow learners to find their desired courses

Please examine the graphic above, captured from Studio, the authoring tool of the Open edX platform –which is open-source and free to install.

The third checkmark refers to a core technical and pedagogical characteristic of this platform: active learning.

The course content is presented through learning sequences: a set of interwoven videos, readings, discussions, wikis, collaborative and social media tools, exercises and materials with automatic assessments and instant feedback.

Students alternate between learning concepts and solving simple exercises to check their understanding.

As a best practice, edX recommends building diverse learning sequences, following researchers’ discoveries. “We recommend that 80% or more of your learning sequences or subsection include multiple content types (such as video, discussion, or problem)”.

Gently nudging students, tutoring them and setting and soft deadlines in the course is equally helpful.

Would you suggest additional engagement techniques?




Asimov Predicted the State of Education in 2019. Was He Right?

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

“AI, Machine Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Adaptive Learning, Big Data, and so on, and so.”

This is how Jeffrey Riman, Professor at FIT and Chair of the Faculty Advisory Council on Teaching and Technology (FACT2) at SUNY, summarized the technology issues dominating the conversation in higher ed during the 2019 CIT Conference.

“Among the many challenges for faculty and instructional support staff are increased complexity and steeper learning curves, greater time commitment, and outsourced content creation and assessment strategies. Course size will continue to grow, and the pace of change is accelerating,” said Jeffrey Riman [in the picture].

“And one thing we know: history is not a predictor of future performance,” he added.

Funny reference to history. Let’s go back four decades.

On December 31, 1983, esteemed scholar and best-selling sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov predicted how the world would be in 2019.

He wrote: “Education, which must be revolutionized in the new world, will be revolutionized by the very agency that requires the revolution – the computer…”

“There will be an opportunity finally for every youngster, and indeed, every person, to learn, in his or her own time, at his or own speed, in his or her own way…”

“Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.”

Does anyone dare to predict how education will be in 2065?

Asimov the genius did envision the impact of the computer and the connected network, as well as the potential of on-demand learning at scale.

For a fully universal, personalized, adapted and fun education, we might need to wait a little longer.

But foundations are building up.

Ideas to Boost Your Course Completion Rate

Mikel Amigot | IBL News

Completion rates of free massive online courses have traditionally been low, at an average of 5%. This is mostly because these online classes are not offering an appealing benefit in career advancement and do not include tutoring to follow up with learners.

In addition, requiring students to make an upfront payment, often with a minimal fee, show their commitment to the class. It is like in brick-and-mortar colleges: those who pay their own tuition are more likely to continue.

As an instructional designer, a good technique to increase engagement is to place a survey at the beginning of the course asking students how they will apply their new knowledge and what their expectations are.

It is also very helpful to feature the materials available for certain course intervals and include synchronous sessions and live office hours. Whatsapp, Slack, Twitter, Facebook or even Google Hangouts are efficient tools for a face-to-face conference.

This can be combined with group projects and peer assessments ––Open edX includes those two functionalities.

Naturally, discussion forums and problem submissions must be managed. Having at least one teaching assistant who interacts with students via forums, Piazza-style boards or email will end up motivating learners.

Chatbot agents and AI-Teaching AssistantsGeorgia Tech-style, which are able to personalize experiences are also an option.

Economic incentives, such as AWS’ or IBM’s cloud free-credit for young entrepreneurs, are smart approaches.

Imposing deadlines for course completion tends to work well but it could also discourage enrollment. A solution can be to keep parts of the course open without registration. (This possibility –available on Open edX, too– is beneficial for SEO purposes, since Google and other search crawlers can index your public courses.)

Finally, consider adaptive learning. AI-driven adaptive or personalized courses are becoming a reality. Behavioral Sciences and predictive analytics help learners succeed. New learning ecosystems are being designed with this requirement.


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