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  • E-interview with Mr. Emerson Malca

    Mr. Emerson Malca is the co-founder and CEO of StudyRoom. Emerson has been an educational entrepreneur since he was in college and his products have reached over 3 Million students. StudyRoom is built on the power of peer-to-peer social learning.

    1. What is StudyRoom? How does it use the concept of peer learning to make education more effective?

    The idea is pretty simple. In college you could have hundreds of classmates but only get to meet a couple. So if you get stuck on homework it’s very hard to get help, making your classmates the largest, scalable, untapped resource. But what if you could always get help from your classmates? Students can now have access to all their classmates at any time to ask questions, share notes, form study groups and get instant help right when they need it with StudyRoom. Because StudyRoom is 100% student focused it embraces the idea of peer and social learning.

    2. How can StudyRoom bridge the employability gap that many employers find in graduates?

    StudyRoom will help increase the learning outcome for every single student in the platform since now they are all getting the help they needed and couldn’t have. This will decrease the learning gap and thus help bridging the employability gap.

    3. What are the barriers to the widespread adoption of education technology? How can they be overcome?

    Lack of innovation and lack of collaboration in the education ecosystem. It is extremely hard for a startup to work with a university because of how slow schools move and how “protective” they are with their current systems and data.

    4. What are your future plans for StudyRoom?

    Expansion. We have close to 40k students on our platform from just a handful of universities who can’t imagine themselves not using StudyRoom for their classes. There is so much collaboration and sharing happening on our course pages that it’s very beautiful to see how all these students are part of one community where they all want to move forward. We, of course, want to take this amazing experience to millions of students so expansion is our next big step.

    5. How do you see the future of education and online learning, five years from today?

    As Marc Andreessen said on Twitter, to fix education we need to make it more tech-driven. I added to that the fact that it needs to be more student-focused. So I can assure you five years from now we will see that edtech companies will be led by multiple education platforms where other products can tap into very easily and thus creating a great edtech ecosystem. It will be very student-focused where there will be multiple important players in educations empowering students, providing the tools and resources students need to own their education. Universities will have less control and power and they are going to have to deal with that.

  • E-interview with Prof. Kari Frisch

    P rof. Kari Frisch works at Central Lakes College (CLC) in Brainerd, Minnesota. She teaches online classes on Interpersonal Communication, Intercultural Communication, Mass Communication and Online Social Networking. She has consistent retention rates of around 95 percent in her online courses.

    1. While the online courses in general have high drop out rates, you have achieved 3.9 % attrition rate in your courses. Please share your thoughts of how you achieved it.

    I believe that it is a combination of different tactics and practices I take in my course design and delivery. I do presentations on this topic and usually include 10-12 "tips and tricks" that I think might account for the high rates in my classes. Some of the biggest factors I feel are the following:

    A. I have two deadlines where work is due each week. These do not change, they are always the same each week. Having two deadlines gets students in and completing work early so they are not trying to complete everything for the whole week at the last minute.

    B. My deadlines which are always consistent end during the early afternoon. (Wednesday at 1:00 pm and Friday at 1:00 pm). This ensures that there is a large support network available during the time when most students may encounter problems or questions. Our computer center is staffed at that time, our Desire2Learn staff is available at that time (Desire2Learn is our campus LMS), we have a state wide Desire2Learn help desk is staffed at that time, and I'm usually online at that time. I strongly believe that deadlines at midnight do a disservice to many of our students because we are setting them at times when noone is there to help if they have trouble or questions.

    C. I also only release information from week to week so that they are not overwhelmed when they first log in and see all the quizzes, all the surveys, all the content, etc. which can seem quite daunting. So I break it up and make sure to give them early successes with manageable units.

    D. Finally, although many might dispute the validity of doing this in their own disciplines, what works for me is to have untimed, open-book quizzes. Quizzes are just a small portion of the assessments I use in my classes and I have found that students seem to get just as much out or more out of the open-book untimed format than when I used to use timed, closed-book quizzes. Short-term memorization isn't deeper learning to me and if a student performed poorly on a test it didn't always prompt them to try harder on the next test. I use self-assessments and other assessments that target various learning styles and I think that helps too.

    2. The different learning styles of the students are addressed by you with various assessments and assignments. Could you please elaborate on it?

    I have all my students take a learning style assessment at the beginning of the semester so they become aware of what their personal learning styles might be and give them resources for how to best use their dominant styles for deeper learning in all their classes. I then will often refer to this as I give different assignments throughout the semester to help them connect to the learning happening.

    Some examples might be a musical playlist assignment for those musical learners, an interview assignment for those high in interpersonal, a meditation assignment for those intrapersonal learners, a quiz on some statistical charts for our number folks, and a word puzzle for those high in linguistic learning.

    I also often use the "Windows & Mirrors Theory" which helps students connect to material in more personal ways because it's based on your own experience and knowledge versus something deemed "right" or "wrong." The basic foundation of the theory is that I can look at something (a poem, an experience, a picture, a concept, etc.) and look for ways in which I recognize my own experience/knowledge. Those similarities are considered "mirrors". Then I look at the same item and look for differences or what's unfamiliar and those become "windows". When those windows and mirrors are shared with each other it becomes clear that what may be a window to one person is a mirror to another.

    But the best part is when students discover that something isn't completely a mirror or a window but is in the grey area in between those because it is both. They may be different than someone else, but they also have commonalities that make them collectively human.
    In my field (communication) this helps lead to greater empathy which I always strive for in all my classes.

    A final note on this...I think students are trained in Westernized education to be thinking there's one right answer, so to allow them to have this "well it depends on you and your life experiences" is really rewarding and when we can connect more personally to material than I think we get deeper, more long-term, learning.

    3. What is the future potential you see for extending, upgrading and transforming higher education through development of online learning and other means?

    I have heard reports from students in my online class that if it weren't for the format (being online) that they would not be in school. I get a large number of parents in my classes or students who are juggling a full-time job, family and school. The days of just going to school and not having to worry about anything else are probably behind us, at least at the community and technical college level where I work. So there is great potential to reach more individuals who want this kind of access to higher education.

    I do however hope that the education remains focused on the student learner and a nurturing online classroom. I feel massive online classes can take away the personal integrity of both the student and the instructor and I believe that environments where the instructor can share their passion and help students connect (to concepts, to each other, to previous knowledge and individual experiences) happens best when the instructor can be engaged with the student and can help them learn through what I call "one-degree of separation". The further away learning seems (concepts in a textbook, lecturer, even the teacher) I feel the harder it is to keep them engaged and the harder it is to make those important deeper-learning connections.

    So although I have experienced some significant learning happening in online education, I hope we don't transform it beyond something personal to both the student and the instructor. But yes, it also does have the potential to be transformative, especially bringing together people (students and instructors) who may not otherwise be able to attend class in the same traditional classroom.

    This last example has great potential in that traditional classrooms, especially in some rural areas like where my campus is located, can bring together students who wouldn't otherwise meet. Many of my students (even online as most of our online students are still within a relatively small geographic radius of our physical campus) have not been outside of Minnesota let alone outside of the United States. So their is the potential to bring together people who are geographically (and culturally) separated. There's no denying we are in a global world now where understanding different perspectives is important both personally and professionally. Giving students the opportunity to have life experiences online they might not otherwise have inside their own neighborhood is rich in potential.

    4.What are the most important issues to be addressed and initiatives needed to upgrade and transform higher education globally?

    Even though we move forward with technological advances which might seem impersonal we need to strive to keep learning personal in my opinion. Online classes are tough--both for the instructor and the student. Neither one should rush into it without being motivated and prepared to do what it takes to succeed.

    5. The internet has facilitated greater accessibility and democratization of education. But how can quality of online courses be ensured, maintained or even improved at the same time?

    I am constantly evaluating and revising my classes. I work on them week to week and try to share engaging and current information. I have to rely on my students as well, I have to keep a pulse on how the class is going--stay engaged myself and not just rely on what I think material is being received--I have to survey my students to see.
    I think it can be very easy to put a bad online course out there. The good ones require alot of time and energy (on the part of both the student and the instructor). Instructors need to do their homework and make sure they have a support system to ensure they are being successful just as their course design is expected to be.

    On my campus we have an Online Instruction and Technology Committee that meets regularly to share ideas, form work plans, and discuss best practices. I think that's important. I also attend conferences and share resources on best practices. One of the hot items that we are tackling now on our campus is accessibility issues related to videos and getting all our campus videos closed captioned (both for on-campus classes as well as those strictly online). That's one way we are improving as a campus our values of accessibility for all students.

    I also think we do a disservice if we let students sign-up without making sure they have the time and resources to devote to a class. So being upfront and telling students right away what the requirements are and what the expectations will be is important.

    6. What are the radical changes needed in the present educational delivery systems?

    I'm not sure we need radical changes right now in the delivery systems. Having support staff and highly engaged instructors outweighs the actual delivery system in my opinion. Our delivery system seems to meet the needs fairly well--but there are probably some folks out there where the delivery system is a problem. I also think you can have the right delivery system but if you get too big (i.e. MOOCS) you could be hurting the learning objectives of some courses/disciplines.