Eric Kunnen\’s GRCC Blog

Leveraging Technology to Improve Online Student Success & Retention
July 27, 2011, 10:55 pm
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The Chronicle recently published an article (Community-College Students Perform Worse Online Than Face to Face) related to online learning and student success rates and highlighted research which was supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a nutshell, the report finds that students taking an online course had 82% chance of completing the course when compared with 90% in face to face courses.  For remedial courses that percentages were 74% and 85% respectively.

Here are a few key excerpts from the article (in italics) that I have found particularly useful:

  • “Online courses are a vital piece of the postsecondary puzzle,” said Shanna S. Jaggars, co-author of the study. “There are a lot of nontraditional students who would find it very difficult to attend and complete college without the flexibility they offer, but at the same time colleges need to be careful to make sure these courses aren’t just thrown together and that they are effectively serving students.”
    • This is an excellent point and underscores the importance of deliberate course design and quality checks and balances.  Quality Matters is a good resource here along with programs such as the Blackboard Exemplary Course Award Program.  In addition, Blackboard Inc. now has a partnership with Quality Matters that centers around quality courses design and effective faculty professional development.  Grand Rapids Community College is working to evaluate quality programs to move forward in improving the quality of online learning.
  • “Ms. Jaggars said lower completion rates in online courses often boil down to a combination of technical difficulties, a lack of structure, and isolation. Online students often have little training in how to navigate the online interfaces of their courses and struggle to manage their coursework without the grounding of weekly class meetings.”
    • The key here is to execute well on providing a reliable and robust enterprise course management systems like Blackboard Inc.  Further, dedicated student services, technology, distance learning, and faculty professional development departments need to coordinate efforts and provide the structure needed for streamlining services for students and faculty.  This includes specific areas around student (and faculty) support services and technical support.

      Isolation can occur easily, and this is where instructors can leverage technologies to broadcast their presence.  Not only with active participation in the course through announcements, discussion board posts, emails, etc.  But also by leveraging technologies such as Blackboard Collaborate Enterprise Instant Messaging. This instant messaging solution can effectively be used for online collaboration, office hours, and in the awareness that their instructor is present and online.
      Further using tools like Blackboard Connect for Learncan provide the personal touch that can help students succeed.  Sending text messages and text-to-voice message can improve the communication and reduce the feeling of isolation that can be common for students.  Grand Rapids Community College provides these solutions to faculty and is working to promote and create awareness of the power of “online presence” in teaching online.

      Here is a video clip that highlights the interactions possible with Bb IM:

  • Academic analytics is another important facet of this discussion.  Often there is data tucked away in our online systems that can help inform, shape, predict, and improve course delivery and student support.
    • Products such as Early Alert from Starfish Retention Solutions provide effective ways to leverage the data in course management systems such as Blackboard to better identify, track, and retain students.  Blackboard Analytics for Learnwas recently announced at the BbWorld 2011 conference as a product that takes advantage of iStrategy that was acquired by Blackboard in February of this year.

      Grand Rapids Community College uses Starfish Early Alert to identify students who may be falling behind in their online courses by automatically notifying the student and the faculty member if a student hasn’t accessed their online course within 7 days.  Also, conduct/behavior, academic performance, and manually raise attendance flags are used campus wide with the goal of intervening early to better support students.  These flags, when raised, notify the instructor, the student, retention specialists, student conduct and student affairs staff.

“The report suggests several ways to improve online courses, including increased technological support for students and more extensive training in online-teaching methods for faculty.”


Applying the Blackboard LMS to TPACK
February 3, 2011, 2:59 pm
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I recently came across TPACK.

“Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge. At the heart of the TPACK framework, is the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK).” – SOURCE:

What I like about TPACK is that it zeros in on the intersection and interplay of the domains of: Content, Pedagogy, and Technology  This model can be used to be reflective and yet intentional when viewed from the aspect of teaching practice and instructional technology deployment.  This can be useful for faculty, instructional designers, those involved in designing professional development activities, and instructional technologists.

Using the TPACK model, faculty and instructional designers can focus on relaying content that adhere to course outcomes in a way that is pedagogically effective through the application of appropriate technologies.  Taken together this truly has potential to transform teaching and learning.  This in turn, has direct implications for faculty professional development as well as instructional technologists that are charged with providing support for technology integration in teaching.

While the focus is on the TPACK “center”, the following intersections may be helpful to review to begin putting TPACK into practice and it is also where the “rubber-meets-the-road” so to speak.

Consider the following equation (TCK + PCK + TPK = TPACK):

TCK (Technological Content Knowledge)

  • This intersection is all about how technology can be applied to subject matter to represent it and formulate it in ways never before possible – with the goal to make it comprehensible for diverse populate learners and learning styles.
  • Blackboard can power unique applications and representations of content.  Powerful analogies through Wimba Voice Tools, illustrations through Slideshare and Flickr Mashups, examples and simulations or explanations through YouTube Mashups, and demonstrations or real world application of content with engaging video tools such as NBC Learn can be easily added to courses in Blackboard.


PCK (Pedagogical Content Knowledge)

  • This intersection relates to how subject matter can be organized, adapted, facilitated, and presented.
  • Blackboard enables faculty and instructional designers to create an effective sequence and structure in displaying course materials, assignments, and learning activities.  Learning Units, Lesson Plans, Course Links, and Tool Links can be used by faculty to bring about custom course designs in Blackboard.  In addition, Adaptive Release can be leveraged to create custom learner paths.


TPK (Technological Pedagogical Knowledge)

  • This intersection is about the knowledge of the existence of technologies and ability to apply them to change teaching and learning.
  • Blackboard has a wide array of tools for teaching.  These tools can be broken down into Content Delivery, Communication, and Assessment categories.  There are also features that provide the ability to manage and maintain class records.  A few of the features in Blackboard include: Grade Center, Discussion Boards, Wikis, Blogs, Journals, Assignments, SafeAssignments, content Mashups (Slideshare, Flickr, YouTube, Camtasia Relay, NBC video content, Voice Authoring), Email, Wimba Pronto Instant Messaging, Wimba Voice Boards, Wimba Voice Email, Wimba Voice Announcements, Self and Peer Assessment, Surveys, Tests, group tools, announcements, etc.



  • and the potential of transforming teaching and learning with technology…

Some closing questions.  As you assess this model:

  1. Which domain do you naturally fall into?
  2. What domain do you need to spend some more time on and learn about?
  3. What steps can you take to approach “the center”?

Learning on-the-GO with Blackboard!
March 30, 2009, 2:46 pm
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GRCC was recently highlighted in a recent Blackboard Inc. Press Release entitled: “New Blackboard Learn(TM) for Apple(R) iPhone(TM) Application Lets Users Take Learning on the Go”.

In the press release, Nate Schumacher who is a student and a staff member in the Learning Academy was cited for his involvement in the Beta of the application.

iphoneapp“Building on its efforts to engage students and learners in a more personalized learning experience, Blackboard Inc. (Nasdaq: BBBB) today announced the release of a free application that lets users of the Apple(R) iPhone(TM) and iPod touch(R) take learning on the go by accessing course information wherever and whenever they prefer […]The application is great for quickly checking Blackboard on the go, and it helps me be more engaged and organized even if I’m from away campus,” said Nate Schumacher, a freshman at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan who participated in the Beta program for the application. “With Blackboard on my iPod touch, I’m checking more often for new grades and updates the same way I check my email. Because it’s so accessible, I can see my progress instantly and get feedback from professors on how I’m doing, so it helps make me a better student. This application has great potential. I would definitely recommend it to other students…

More information is available on the Blackboard Sync web site.

Technology in Teaching – The Final Frontier
March 11, 2009, 10:20 am
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According to, the word “Frontier” means:

an undeveloped field of study; a topic inviting research and development; “he worked at the frontier of brain science”

Photo from Flickr by pbo31 under the Creative Commons license.

Photo from Flickr by pbo31 under the Creative Commons license.

This notion rang true recently for me after Gary Ebels, a professor at GRCC forwarded me an article from the Wired Campus entitled: “Randy Bass and Bret Eynon: We Need R&D for Teaching With Technology

In this article, Randy Bass, from Georgetown University, and Bret Eynon, from LaGuardia Community College posed the following statement and question:

“When it comes to innovations in teaching and learning, higher education seems like the last to know and the slowest to respond. In every other way, we push at the frontiers of knowledge, ask critical questions, take risks. In all other realms of research, practices of peer review, dialogue, accountability, and replication engender innovation. Why is it the opposite for teaching and learning?”

I thought this was an excellent way of posing the ongoing work and challenges facing education in this highly technical, fast moving, and interactive world in which we find ourselves. Why is it so difficult for educational institutions in adopting new technologies and methodologies? Why is it that we get stuck on theory and principle but can’t quite make it to methods and practices? How can institutions meet change head on and accept it, even though it may reduce control from the departments and individuals that are used to heeding control?

I think Mr. Bass and Mr. Eynon are correct in saying that one of the reasons is that we have little means to take an individual idea or technology from breakthrough to the mainstream.  One problem is that for many institutions, the institution’s policies, procedures, and operations exist for the purpose of simply maintaining the status-quo of an institution. And that is why I think it is important to underscore the suggestion in the article.  That is, “…we must create communities within institutions that truly engage experimentation in the context of inquiry and systematic improvement. Every campus should have its own R&D processes that nurture transformative practices. Every campus should be asking what it means to create such a space.  How can structures of accountability nurture creativity?”

All this being said, educational institutions are approaching a sort of “transformative tipping point” (if you will) where if they don’t change, they run the risk of becoming old and outdated in their desire to preserve the past, as others pass them by. We need to set aside our rigid formal policies and procedures that restrict innovation and creativity and proceed forward.  It is true that we can’t do everything, since trying to do everything results in not doing anything really really well.  Hence, as the article suggests, every college needs an “R&D department”.

Change happens quickly in our next generation world, and those that are successful will be fast to adopt new technologies and teaching methodologies.  It is no longer good enough to be the biggest-on-the-block, you also need to be able to adapt quickly while keeping momentum and the mission dynamic.  Put another way, it’s really about flattening the organization so that flexibility can breed enthusiasm which encourages creativity that leverages innovation.

Understandably, with growth and change comes uncertainty, disagreement, etc. but through working together collaboratively with flexibility, I believe this frontier can be explored and leveraged.

Scanning the Horizon – A Review of the 2009 Horizon Report
February 23, 2009, 4:14 pm
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One of the reports that I always look forward to reading is the Horizon Report [PDF] from the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative.  This report is always interesting to read and thought provoking.  It contains important trends and topics that are an important read for anyone working in education.  Whether or not you are a techie with a pocket protector, or a technophobe, or someone that lies somewhere in the middle, this report is well worth reading.

In short, the Horizon Report focuses on the following six areas that will have an impact on teaching and learning within the next 5 years:

  1. Mobiles
  2. Cloud Computing
  3. Geo-everything
  4. The Personal Web
  5. Semantec-aware Applications
  6. Smart Objects

MOBILES – While the debate continues on whether or not to allow cell phones in the classrooms (see School Cell Phone Ban article)… not to mention laptops, one this is clear, mobile technologies will continue to play an ever more important role in our personal lives and also from a productivity standpoint.  Take a look at the Apple iPhone ad as a perfect illustration for this.  Need a better educational example you ask? Well, ok… check out this iStanford iPhone app video.

In addition to crisis message alerts from GRCC’s Rave Wireless system, the college is currently working to include the ability for students to subscribe to course related information (announcements, calendar items, assignments, and grades) in the college’s Blackboard system.  More information is located on GRCC’s mobile web site.

In addition, the college is working on expanding the use of the iPod Touch for podcasting lectures that are captured with Camtasia Relay to support the work of the AT&T grant that was awarded to the college back in February 2008.

Following along on this mobile theme, GRCC is also looking forward to Blackboard’s iPhone app to provide even better integration for students and their access to course information with an iPhone or iPod Touch.

CLOUD COMPUTING – What is becoming an more common place buzz word in education, this notion will likely be shaping how students and faculty communicate and exchange information.  Much of the course information is already available via the web, through GRCC’s Blackboard system as well as publisher web sites.  Also, GRCC currently uses Gmail for student email and the Google Apps are a possibility in the future.

GEO-EVERYTHING – While you may lump this into the MOBILES section, there is tremendous potential here for disciplines like geography, history, and science whereby location, combined with imagary provide a wealth of contextual information that provides a more thorough understanding of the materials.

THE PERSONAL WEB – Combining with the students ability to access course content anytime/anywhere is the ability for students to easily share, connect, and collaborate online.  Not only can students access information, but they can interact with it, comment on it, engage with it.  Services like Twitter, WordPress, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr provide end user generated content that when combined with online community creates a potentially powerful learning environment.  GRCC’s YouTube site is already providing a wealth of information that is freely available to not only the students here at GRCC but the community beyond.  Combined with that is GRCC’s Facebook page that provides yet another way for individuals to interact collectively…   Students are also beginning to use blogs, wikis, and portfolios that are integrated into Blackboard through a Building Block from Learning Objects Inc.

Finally, students can take advantage of Classtop CourseFeed or Blackboard Sync to integrate their personal web space and academic web spaces together.

SEMANTIC-AWARE APPLICATIONS – No where but the web could such a thing be possible.  That is, the ability to create connections between items that are seemingly unrelated to generate new meaning.   While just scratching the surfance, Scholar by Blackboard is one service that already contains rich resources that point to knowledge contruction.  However, what’s missing is the intelligence behind connecting all of these seemingly unrelated resources.  Albeit, Scholar is still an effective tool that provides social bookmarking and sharing from a personal/productivity tool, at the course level, and toward a knowledge sharing and construction perspective.

SMART OBJECTS – Items that are self aware have potential in education beyond the typical situations where you may find things like RFID tags and the like.   Think in terms of signing out reference materials in the Library by merely walking out with them.  Or perhaps paying for your food in the cafeteria by simply walking out of the lunchroom.  Technologies that work for people, rather than the other way around could help for something as simple as reducing much of the time spent standing in lines.  Blackboard and Sony FeliCa announced a partnership in this direction about a year ago.

Switching gears, but yet related to this 2009 Horizon Report are the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative’s Top Teaching and Learning Challenges for 2009:

  1. Creating learning environments that promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.
  2. Developing 21st-century literacies among students and faculty (information, digital, and visual).
  3. Reaching and engaging today’s learner.
  4. Encouraging faculty adoption and innovation in teaching and learning with IT.
  5. Advancing innovation in teaching and learning (with technology) in an era of budget cuts.

Combining and comparing the 2 reports, there is a common theme around reaching and engaging today’s learners using technologies that promote active learning, collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing.  The importance of encouraging faculty adoption and supporting innovation in teaching and learning is becoming exceedingly clear.

Engaging Students through Social Networking
February 23, 2009, 12:32 pm
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Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a webinar session by Inigral Inc. which is a company that specializes in bringing social networking to education.  The session I attended was called: “Lifecycle Engagement: Using Social Networking to Engage Prospects, Students”.  What follows are some of my thoughts and notes from the session:

I enjoyed the session because I believe that social networking in and around education is becoming a requirement for educational institutions.  My focus is on using social media in the classroom, but just as important are those students that are not yet part of the institution or those that have recently graduated.  Taken from this perspective is a view that social networking can be used for the entire lifecycle of a student’s engagment with an institution. That is, the “wrap around” services that an institution provides (in addition to the direct classroom instruction) are as important as it shapes an overall student experience.  Therefore, even those areas of a campus that are often considered as “extra curricular” activities such as student groups or organizations are important to the complete “education experience”.

Anyway, I picked up several good ideas and thought provoking suggestions from this session as Michael Staton did a great job of providing some background around social media and networking before jumping into some solutions that Inigral provides.

It was a good refresher that helped to underscore the importance of: images and video, mini-feeds of information, relevant and timely content, user generated content, interactive commenting, showcasing and marketing for awareness, and overall the building of online interactions and community through extending the campus into the virtual world.  I thought it important also to do what Michael suggested in searching for what is already out there about your campus.  If anything, it will give you a good indication of what the perceptions are of your campus, and what is important to students.

I thought that this slide was particularly helpful in how it breaks down the components of the life cycle into prospective students, enrolled students, and alumni.


Inigral’s Schools on Facebook solution seems to be headed in the right direction.  If you are interested in learning more, Inigral is hosting another session (on March 4th) entitled “The Facebook Dilemma“.

While social networking and it’s use in education continues to grow and expand, check out GRCC on Facebook or as a student, get plugged in with Blackboard Sync and CourseFeed which are available now from GRCC’s Blackboard system.

Top Challenges for Education in the Year 2009
January 9, 2009, 5:28 pm
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With a new year, and at the start of the Winter semester here at GRCC, it is time to re-group, re-flect, re-think, re-evaluate, and re-invest in connecting teaching, learning, and technology.  It is a good time to think strategically about the upcoming year.  As I ponder about the next year, determining what “resolutions” I think we should focus on, I was happy to receive a great list of challenges from the “EDUCAUSE Teaching and Learning Challenges 2009 Project”.  The project highlighted the following:

“In order of their final ranking, the “Top Teaching and Learning Challenges, 2009” are:

  1. Creating learning environments that promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.
  2. Developing 21st-century literacies among students and faculty (information, digital, and visual.)
  3. Reaching and engaging today’s learner.
  4. Encouraging faculty adoption and innovation in teaching and learning with IT.
  5. Advancing innovation in teaching and learning (with technology) in an era of budget cuts.”

To join in on the discussion and to acquire more info, see the EDUCAUSE Teaching and Learning Challenges on Ning.

    I agree with these as being listed as some of the top challenges that need some focus from all perspectives at an institution.  Involvement should come from all levels… including the students, faculty, staff, and administration.  I believe that the themes of:  student engagement, active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation lend themselves very well to the next generation of learning and the next generation of course management systems.

    I am excited and have a lot of anticipation for this upcoming year!!!