Tuesday, July 14, 2015

CyberLab Graduate Research Assistant Produces New Algorithm for CN Word Cloud Analytics

Maziar Bouali, a graduate research assistant and software project manager in the IUPUI CyberLab, has researched and developed a module/framework for the Word Cloud Analytics on CN. This module aims to benefit instructors and students alike and is set to release as an LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) tool soon.

A traditional word cloud feature counts the number of times a word is mentioned in a given text, and produces a visual compiled of popular words; the more frequently used words appear in larger text and the less frequently used words appear in smaller text. This shows the viewer the key, or most important topics at a glance.

Maziar Aboualizadeh Behbahani
Maziar’s version includes additional “input parameters”, making it a more efficient algorithm while providing meaningful, and appealing word cloud visuals to instructors and learners. His version allows the filtration of “junk words” or common words of the English language, such as articles so the system can make a more valuable selection. This “junk words” filter is customizable based on language and course needs and can be set up by CourseNetworking Admin or an Instructor. Maziar’s algorithm also allows grouping of similar words or tenses of one word, along with a “two-word coefficient”. The “two-word coefficient”, Maziar said, “was actually a request from a professor to Dr. Ali Jafari [CEO of Course Networking]” and the task was given to him. He went on to explain,

“It groups together words that are used next to one another, for example, if the two words ‘social media’ are used next to one another three times, it has more importance than just ‘social’ or just ‘media’ being used five or six times each. This logic is configurable.”

This means that his algorithm recognizes the importance of a repeated two word phrase, subject or topic and treats it as such, instead of separating the two words as a traditional word cloud would. The improvements also include the ability to ignore numbers, case of words, and enforce a minimum frequency a word must appear to be included in the world cloud visual. Along with these additions, his algorithm also allows administrators or instructors to choose the number of selected worlds. Maziar explained, “If the word cloud algorithm filters through posts and finds 100 words that may be used, an administrator can dictate, or possibly, an instructor may select to view or use the top 15 and so on.” This narrows down topics and heightens word cloud value even more.

source: internal_communication.com
With all of the additions to the traditional word cloud, within Maziar’s algorithm, there are many benefits to be gained from this project. He described the projected benefits and incentives for creating algorithm by saying, “it will save instructors and learners time, they can look at the word cloud from time to time and quickly gain the idea what the main discussion topics in the course were; it will also help keep them up to date with content and on track with what the major learning interests appear to be [based on size of the words].” This algorithm’s goal is to be faster, smarter, of higher quality, improve analytics and to produce a better course focus.


This update didn’t come easy, however. There is no ‘open source tool’ or template code for this type of algorithm. Maziar Bouali developed the algorithm from scratch based on his own research and use of the platform jQuery. When asked about his process, he admitted 

“Getting [the algorithm] to recognize similar words was, and continues to be the biggest challenge, humans complete tasks like this with ease but computers require artificial intelligence.” 

After his research and analyzation of other website’s capabilities, he was able to complete his development. Soon, Maziar’s LTI Word Cloud will be available at thecn.com as a beta. As for the future, CourseNetworking plans to conduct extensive testing and then release Maziar’s algorithm as an LTI tool that may be added to other LMS as a plug in, for example, the tool could be added to Canvas, Sakai, Moodle, and others. Maziar says there could even be talk of releasing his project as an open source tool someday. He is set to graduate from IUPUI with a Master’s Degree in Electronic Computer Engineering in May of 2016 and will continue his work as a software developer.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

CN Around the World: Joseph Choe Explains Berjaya University’s Recent Adoption

Joseph Choe Kin Hwa, a lecturer at Berjaya University College of Hospitality, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shares his personal experiences and those of Berjaya, as they have implemented CourseNetworking on their campus.

Professor Joseph Choe Kin Hwa
Berjaya University, Malaysia
One year ago, Berjaya adopted the CN as their campus LMS for all instructors and students to use. When recalling the transition, Joseph admitted the change was challenging; “It is a paradigm shift of developing course material on the CN, if you compare it to the chalk board teaching method.” However, after briefing and training, the instructors are starting to see the benefits of using CourseNetworking and the many helpful tools. Joseph says the students in his courses are coping quite well and some have even started using CN as their alternate social network, by posting their activities and thoughts on thecn.com.

Joseph also shared his opinions on technology’s role in learning and higher education, saying that technology facilitates teaching and learning in higher education. He explained,

“[technology] provides more channels and opportunities for learning to take place, where educators and learners interact effectively without the constraint of having face-to-face sessions.”

The use of multimedia is very important to Joseph, as he uses it in his courses on the CN; he also says the internet allows learners to be more independent in their learning, which is very crucial in higher education today. Joseph Choe then explained further how he believes CourseNetworking showcases the importance of technology in education. At Berjaya, Joseph uses thecn.com to engage his students outside of the classroom, by posting short quizzes, organizing online discussions, and sharing additional readings and learning materials with his students. He was most enthusiastic about CourseNetworking’s SmartLink feature in Tasks tool, describing it as “one of the most brilliant functions on the CN.” Joseph uses SmartLinks tool to design and deliver tasks and facilitate students by having them go step by step to complete learning activities. He believes, “the user friendly interface and availability of a mobile app makes the CN easy and accessible for instructors and students alike.”

Joseph Choe also shared his own personal experiences and how the CN benefits his courses. Tasks and Subtasks are the backbone of his courses, as they provide structure and direction for students and help keep them on track as they navigate the SmartLinks that Choe has carefully created. Polls are also prominent in Joseph’s courses as he uses them to help quiz his students on material they have covered through the tasks. “They are excited to see the breakdown by percentage of their classmates’ answers compared to their own, and they can view my feedback automatically after they answer the Poll.” Joseph says that as an instructor, he sees that the moment the students are engaged, it is easier to encourage them to continue with other materials and activities he has designed for them. This process is done with the help and tools from CourseNetworking.

SmartLink: Hyperlinks that instructors can easily create in the Task tool to direct students to internal and external learning resources and activities. For instance, an instructor might highlight a term and build a Hyperlink on it to prompt students submit an assignment.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Instructor Integrates CN to Enhance Student Engagement

IUPUI professor and Ph.D. Candidate Elizabeth Dale assisted in a CN Workshop on June 11, 2015 through the IUPUI Center for Teaching and Learning. The workshop, titled Enhancing Student Engagement by Adding CN to Oncourse and Canvas, was presented to IUPUI faculty. At the workshop, Dale demonstrated to fellow instructors how she integrates the CN into her online and face-to-face traditional courses.

Professor Elizabeth Dale
Elizabeth Dale teaches an introductory philanthropy course, both online, in a 6-week intensive format and as a traditional, semester-long course. She explained that she sees the importance of using CourseNetworking in both types of courses and has received positive feedback about CN from her students. Dale has seen CourseNetworking evolve over the years, as she has been a user since late 2012—the same year CN was launched. She commended the changes and updates the developers have completed and went on to tell her audience that she “appreciates the fact that CourseNetworking is very customizable.”

Throughout the workshop Dale covered integration with CN and other learning systems such as Oncourse and Canvas, and her experience and use of the CN in her classes over the years. When describing CourseNetworking, she explained,

“Using thecn.com has been a positive experience and I have enjoyed having CN as a tool. I can use the CN no matter what campus I’m on; it’s nice to have a tool that I can take with me.”

She went on to say that she engages her philanthropy students by creating tasks and assignments that require them to write posts with outside material, such as websites, articles, and videos, that add to an overall group discussion. Dale happily shared that her students have taken to CourseNetworking and she enjoys seeing what outside sources they share with their peers. “My students learn a lot from each other, they may educate themselves on one philanthropic organization for their own post, but while they read and reflect on their classmates’ posts they learn more than they think—maybe they learn about a dozen or more new organizations, rather than just the one they researched.” Dale even pointed out the participation of students on CourseNetworking between her online course and her face-to-face course were virtually the same. She showed how CN plays a significant role in each of these course formats.

Elizabeth Dale’s enthusiasm about CN continued as she covered the features she and her students utilize the most. Dale stated, “The poll feature is really unique and my classes use it a lot; I have my students post quiz questions after their reading assignments.” She told her audience that CN lends itself to interaction and engagement through features like creating a poll or post. CourseNetworking helps her traditional courses “pick up where they left off” as they can easily transition from online homework CN posts to face-to-face classroom discussions. Dale explained that this also helps her monitor what her students are getting from the material so she can address questions or make any clarifications when they meet in class.

Elizabeth Dale’s courses in the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy will continue to use the CN as a supplemental tool. Dale supports the integration of educational tools and the future technological advances CourseNetworking has to offer.



Thursday, April 30, 2015

Andy Gavrin Uses CN to Engage His Students in Physics and Evolving Technology

IUPUI Associate Professor and Physics Department Chair, Andy Gavrin, teaches his physics courses with the help of CourseNetworking.

Andy has been using CN since the fall of 2014 and truly believes that [the CN] "Gives students the opportunity to help teach each other while they are benefiting themselves in the process." Gavrin personally likes to see his students write posts, questions or quizzes about course material because he sees that when they are typing out explanations they're learning the material, while at the same time they are reading and reflecting on their classmates posts.

Professor Andy Gavrin
As an instructor, Andy expressed that using the interface of CN was really easy, "I can see the page feed with my student's posts, and post any handouts or lab documents for the course on the CN." He then mentioned the tools that he utilizes most: posts, polls, quizzes, and the syllabus/resources tab. These tools aid his courses and engage his students to actively participate.

Andy Gavrin used the Anar Seed Reward System as a form of extra credit for those who engaged in discussions and quizzes through posting and reflecting. Gavrin recalled that his students learned to use CourseNetworking very quickly, as he introduced CN in his first class and presented all course work on the course homepage. He said about 3/4 of the students in his course were active participants on the CN.

Student engagement is especially important to Andy and he has seen it evolve as technology has. Throughout his career as an instructor many doors have opened in terms of educational technology. In time, his teaching styles have also evolved. Gavrin describes himself as a 'technology geek' because he is open-minded, always excited and willing to explore and try to new tools in the ED-tech world. This is where he ran into CourseNetworking. Though, he has only used the CN for one year, he sees the potential it has. For this reason, Andy joined the TST group, or (as featured in an earlier blog) the Teaching Scholars Think Tank, which is made up of instructors, just like Andy. The instructors help the CN development team pinpoint the most valuable aspects of thecn.com and provide feedback so the platform can continue to improve. 

When asked what he thought about the evolving technological world and what it might look like in the future, Gavrin responded by saying he expects technology to continue in the same way that the CN has tapped into, "I think aspects of educational technology will continue to grow closer together and continue to merge: mobile friendly learning, integration of educational tools, social networks, clickers; they will all move closer together." He fully expects his teaching styles to continue to evolve as the field and technology does and Andy Gavrin plans to use CourseNetworking for all course work instead of a supplement LMS in the fall of 2015.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

E.C. Moore Symposium CN Workshop: Educators Helping Educators

On Friday, March 5, 2015 CourseNetworking made an appearance at the faculty E.C. Moore Symposium, located in the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Campus Center. A CN Workshop was led by IUPUI’s own Andrew Gavrin- physics professor and Jim Marrs and Kathy Marrs- biology professors.

Presenters: Andy Gavrin, Kathy Marrs, Jim Marrs
How would you define engagement? Andrew Gavrin started by prompting his colleagues with this question, following up with “How would you measure the engagement of your students?” After taking responses from the audience Andy answered with “I know my students are engaged when they start relating the subject to life simultaneously.” The CN Workshop and faculty presenters encouraged instructors in all fields to venture out and utilize the platform to further engage students through social learning. Numerous features were brought to the audience’s attention, as the professors were able to give real world examples and insight into the way they conduct their courses and reward their students on CourseNetworking.

Andy Gavrin shared with fellow educators examples from his own courses. He showcased his physics students and how they have enjoyed CourseNetworking. While demonstrating the task tool, Gavrin reflected on a particular post where the student had applied physics to their everyday life. The student had posted on the physics course page and explained how physics related to gym machinery, and movement because that student enjoyed exercising. Gavrin used this example to relay how CourseNetworking was engaging and inspiring his students to actively learn and share with each other.

Kathy Marrs explained how she is able to use the CN for all of her classroom needs. As a professor of 400+ biology students, Marrs understands how hard it can be to engage students and to encourage them to interact together. CourseNetworking was the answer for her courses and she delightedly expressed how easily her students adjusted to the site and how encouraging they are towards one another through their posts and polls.

Workshop presenter Jim Marrs
explaining the use of CN in his classes.
Biology Professor, Jim Marrs specifically mentioned that he enjoyed the Anar Seed reward system and how it has provided his students- even upper level graduate students, with incentives to come out of their shells and have fun in their courses. Jim explained that having a large lecture class can eliminate student interaction and really getting to know students, however, on the CN he can see which student posts what, their self-made profile and how they are interacting- making for a much more memorable experience. Jim shared tips with his colleagues about getting older students involved through the social learning platform by using the Poll tool, providing Anar Seeds for extra credit or simply having them post an ‘about me’ to their classmates. Jim’s experience in teaching multiple level courses on CN showed the audience how CN can help bridge the gap and keep students of all ages engaged.

Involved audience members receiving
assistance from Jim Marrs.
The CN Workshop covered Tasks, Anar Seeds, GradeBook, global posts, Posts and Polls just to name a few. Participants in the workshop were encouraged to create their own posts onsite and review any tools that may prompt any questions. Faculty presenters, Andrew Gavrin, Kathy Marrs and Jim Marrs showed enthusiasm about CN and what it can offer to instructors and learners worldwide. The CN workshop was a great way to showcase these benefits.