Facebooking Your Parents

Posted on January 21, 2013
Whether you've always thought of your parents as ahead-of-the-curve trendsetters, or if they seem impossibly behind the times to you, there's a good chance that even the least modern of parents are now hip to the world of Facebook. With each passing year, more and more parents are signing up, signing on, and becoming the proud operators of their very own social media profiles. Even if your parents are some of your best friends, there's still a good chance that they could embarrass you in front of your 500+ Facebook friends. Even if your parents don't write directly on your Facebook wall, you might be surprised at how often they take a peek at your profile, just to make sure you're staying out of trouble. Nearly half of the parents who have Facebook accounts look at their son or daughter's profile every single day, and one in two parents on the social media network confess that part of why they joined Facebook was primarily to keep an eye on their kids. Love it or hate it, your parents are probably on Facebook to stay—but before you click "accept" on their friend requests, make sure you're prepared to have mom and dad regularly peeking at your profile.

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10 Top Schools Endorsing Free Online Learning

Posted on January 11, 2013

While there has overall been an enormous surge in the number of students who are pursuing degree programs and coursework online, in recent years there has been an increased focus, perhaps spurred on by the economic crisis, on providing high quality online courses free of charge. While these courses often can't be used toward a degree, they do provide students all over the world with the opportunity to learn, grow, and potentially even prepare themselves for the working world. Surprisingly, some of the schools getting in on the popularity of free online courses (and in some cases even pioneering the practice) are among the best schools in the U.S., if not the world. Here are just a handful of the great schools that are now offering, and encouraging others to offer, free online courses that anyone can use.

  1. Harvard University :

    Harvard launched a much publicized collaborative program with MIT in 2012 called edX, offering online university-level courses in a wide range of fields for no charge. The non-profit project has attracted a lot of attention and in its first semester more than 100,000 students signed up for free online versions of its computer science and public health courses. Harvard Law has also gotten in on the free online course game, and just this year announced that it will be offering a free course on copyright law to 500 lucky students, complete with certificates of completion.

  2. MIT:

    When you think of free online courses, the first name that comes to mind is probably MIT. MIT was one of the first to offer free online course content through its Open Courseware project, and in its collaboration with Harvard via edX will likely offer much more in-depth material in the form of MOOCs. Currently, MIT professors are offering four courses students can take through edX, covering topics like global poverty, chemistry, electronics, and computer science. edX was an outgrowth of MITx, a similar project that offered courses through just MIT. While similar, edX covers a much broader spectrum, allowing students to take courses from not only MIT and Harvard but also UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Wellesley, and the University of Texas.

  3. Stanford University :

    MOOC was perhaps the biggest buzzword in online education in the past year, and innovators at this school are largely to thank for that. Stanford academics were behind two of the biggest names in MOOCs today: Coursera and Udacity. Coursera, now a collaborative effort between Stanford and more than 30 other top universities, offers courses in a wide range of topics. At present students cannot get college credit for the courses, but can get certification that they've completed them, which could help in looking for work. Coursera was founded by Stanford academics Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, who've been awed by the support it has received so far. Another big name coming from the school has been Udacity, an outgrowth of a free computer course offered at Stanford in 2011 by professor Sebastian Thrun. Launched in 2012, the MOOC provider has since helped thousands of students learn about tech-centered topics from AI to web development.

  4. Carnegie Mellon University:

    Carnegie Mellon's Open Learning Initiative has been in operation for over a decade, offering free course materials that any student or teacher can use. Currently, there are 17 free courses offered through OLI, but more are planned for the future. OLI resources aren't just used by individuals; many colleges have also been integrating the features offered by Carnegie Mellon into their own hybrid courses, capitalizing on data-driven programs that track and push students not to just memorize material but to truly learn it. The results look promising, with in-house and exterior studies showing that students using the OLI model perform better than those who take traditional courses.

  5. University of Pennsylvania:

    The University of Pennsylvania is one of dozens of schools to offer courses through the MOOC platform Coursera. The school isn't just offering courses through Coursera, however; it has also pledged millions in investments into the company, which may just give it a firm foundation for success in the future. Administrators at the school said that the school felt compelled to take part in the online program because it was a chance to play a role in shaping the future of online educational technology. Currently, Penn is offering three different courses through Coursera, but there are numerous others planned, some of which may even count for course credit at certain schools around the globe.

  6. Columbia University:

    Columbia is no stranger to free online education; it created its own online education portal in 2000 called Fathom, that, while earning some major collaborators (the London School of Economics, Cambridge University Press to name a few), never took off, folding in 2003. Despite this previous failure, as well as other early initiatives that didn't pan out (Columbia Interactive is another now defunct experiment in online education), the school didn't hesitate to join Coursera when the chance arose and pledged to begin offering online courses through the site in early 2013. Currently, the school has three courses listed on the Coursera site, ranging in topic from financial engineering to natural language processing.

  7. Johns Hopkins:

    Johns Hopkins has been offering open courseware through its Bloomberg School of Public Health for nearly a decade, but in just the past year has taken a major leap, now offering not only course materials but also lectures and evaluation through Coursera. While the content still focuses on public health topics, students can get a much more in-depth introduction to the courses regularly offered at Johns Hopkins, a leap that may just help many aspiring healthcare professionals become much more knowledgeable about serious public health concerns.

  8. University of Michigan:

    Another big-name school getting in on Coursera is the University of Michigan. In February of 2012, the University of Michigan offered its first free online course through the site. Called "Model Thinking" and focused on political science and economics, the course reached an impressive 50,000 students. Since then, the school has expanded its online offerings, now giving students the chance to participate in seven different courses from a wide range of departments on campus. Students can still take the "Model Thinking" course as well as those on Internet history, finance, science fiction, and computer vision.

  9. Princeton University:

    Along with Stanford, Michigan, and Penn, Princeton was one of the first big-name schools to sign on to work with Coursera. In September, the school delved into the world of free online education with three courses: "A History of the World Since 1300," "Networks: Friends, Money, and Bytes," and "Computer Architecture." Since then, Princeton has added four more courses that will take place in the Spring semester, as well as two more that have yet to be announced. Some of the professors participating have said that Coursera has not only allowed them to reach more students but to improve the educational outcomes of students on campus, as the flipped classroom model allows for more time to discuss topics and meet with guest speakers in class.

  10. Caltech:

    It makes sense that a school dedicated to the study of technology would wholeheartedly embrace online education, and that's just what Caltech is doing. The school has partnered with Coursera to offer a number of different courses. Last year, Caltech's Henry Lester taught a course on drugs and the brain and this semester students can sign up to learn about cosmology and economics. Before signing on with Coursera, Caltech offered a free "Machine Learning" course through its own website. With loads of students enrolled, it was an incredible success, which may have been a big part of the school's willingness to get on board with Coursera and experiment further with online education.

These are only a handful of the top universities that are endorsing free online courses. Others include Oxford, Brown, Emory, University of Virginia, Duke, John Hopkins, Berkeley, Rice, and Wesleyan, and the list is likely to grow further over the next year as MOOCs and other online courses become increasingly popular.

We suck at setting goals

Posted on January 07, 2013
There's a good chance you made a New Year's resolution this year, and there's also a pretty good chance you've already broken it. It's no secret that setting goals for yourself is hard, and the hard truth is that many people who make goals never achieve them. Much worse than not achieving your goals, however, is failing to set any for yourself in the first place. No matter how big or how small your intended goal is, just setting one for yourself is important. Whether you intend to ace a class, score an internship, or simply become a better note-taker, setting your goal and being aware of it is much better than not knowing what you need to work on, or not caring. For people who set and achieve goals successfully, there are some important habits that make all the difference. For example, people who take the time to write their goals down are much more likely to actually achieve them. The following infographic takes a look at the state of goal setting—how many people set goals, how many people actually reach them, and what those goals might be. Whether you've already broken your New Year's resolution or you've never set a clear mission for yourself before, make it your first goal to take a look at today's infographic.

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Setting Goals Infographic

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Cheating in Your Online Class: Why You’re About to Get Caught

Posted on December 19, 2012

Cheating is perhaps as old as education, and while students were once limited to the information they could scribble on their hands, online students now have the entire Internet at their disposal. Still, cheating in online courses is only slightly higher than live classes, with 32.7% of online students admitting to cheating and 32.1% of students in live classes admitting the same. But it's been more difficult to catch online students in the act: 4.9% of students in live classes are caught cheating, while less than half of that, 2.1% of online students, get busted.

Schools aren't letting these statistics get them down, though. They're fighting back with new technology and different approaches that not only make cheating more difficult, but make it easier to sniff out dishonest students. There will, of course, always be ways for students to cheat, but if you're up against these new tricks, you're likely to get busted.

  • Many online programs are removing opportunities to cheat

    Many students are tempted to cheat and make online quizzes open book, even when they're not. In response, lots of schools are simply doing away with these quizzes altogether. In their place? More difficult assignments that can't really be gamed, like writing portfolios. The new assignments typically require independent thought and can't be just copied from a book. They may even require multiple revisions, which aren't typically offered by online essay-writing services.
  • Every test may be different

    A popular way for online students to cheat is gathering together on test day to take it together, pooling knowledge for the best answers. Or, one student will take the exam earlier than the rest, sharing all the right answers after completion. Although there's nothing to stop students from taking exams together (yet), most schools are now changing up questions or answers in their online system so that no test is the same, making it more difficult and time consuming to cheat. The systems are also no longer revealing test answers until every student in the course has finished the exam. Some schools are even considering setting up testing access centers that students would need to visit in person.
  • Nearly everyone scans for plagiarism

    There's no shortage of material to copy online, and much of that material makes its way into the essays and papers of online students, even accidentally. Although some may purchase papers or scrape Wikipedia with malicious intent, others plagiarize by accident because they don't really understand how to paraphrase or cite. No matter what the intention, plagiarists can be easily caught, with sites like Turnitin.com scanning each piece of student work for red flags that may indicate the material has been copied.
  • Schools may implement remote proctoring

    Although traveling to a test taking center isn't always an option for online students, remote proctoring is. Through remote proctoring, students will flash their passport or ID in front of their webcam, show their face, and take their test while watched by a human proctor. Sound creepy? Yeah, we think so, too. But it practically eliminates the opportunity for students to have others take their exams for them.
  • There are tougher identity checks

    In the early days of online courses, cheating students would just log in and leave their computer running, getting credit for being "in class" whether they were actually there or not. These days, most courses require frequent participation, but students have found another way: paid course takers. Websites like wetakeyourclass.com will assign people to actually take courses for students, but schools are working on putting them out of business. New online precautions like IP address verification, personal history questions, video interaction, and more are making it much easier for fake students to get busted.
  • They're implementing tougher audit policies, too

    Few cheating students fly under the radar of professors without any suspicion. Although professors may not always be able to prove it, they will raise eyebrows when students speed through tests, change their writing style overnight, or dramatically increase their test scores. That's why many online classes now have tougher policies, with professors auditing up to 50% of students in a particular class, random or not. When a student finishes a test unusually fast, professors may require that student to come back and take the test under supervision. Score 10 points lower than you did before, and you're busted.
  • Professors are using varied assessments

    The practice of recycling exams and quizzes from year to year is not unique to online school, and neither is the student practice of using these materials to cheat. But in an increasing effort to stop online cheaters, more professors are mixing it up each and every semester to discourage sharing and subsequent cheating.
  • Schools are taking advantage of new technology

    Cheater busting is going high tech these days with new programs. These programs can analyze typing style, and use facial recognition software to make sure that students are who they say they are. Soon, it may feel like Mission: Impossible to get into your course.

Fantastic Plastic

Posted on December 17, 2012
In today's consumer world, plastic is everywhere—from plentiful stores of bottled water to disposable plasticware to the containers that hold our store-bought food. It seems like you can't go out shopping without running into a good deal of plastic. And while this material is strong, reliable, and undoubtedly useful, we also may have way too much of the stuff that isn't being reused. Recycling plastic uses much less energy than creating new plastic, and it conserves our valuable resources. Despite this, however, only about a third of our material that could be recycled actually is. Among younger generations, the problem of our overconsumption of plastic has been prevalent for as long as some can remember, and yet little has changed or progressed in alleviating the problem. Statistically, people in the Millennial generation (today's high schoolers, college students, and young adults) are much less likely to properly recycle plastic and other materials than those in older generations. If you're of student or Millennial age, take a look at the following infographic—the reality is that younger generations need to start getting serious about recycling, or the future will be robbed of some very valuable resources.

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Plastic Infographic

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