This blog entry reviews a not-for-profit organization called ITHAKA that focuses helps the academic community “use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.” It does this via a number of entities and platforms – some you may have used, others merely heard about, and some that may be new to you entirely. But for anyone interested in “transformative uses of new technologies in higher education” – and particularly in the area of online learning and education – it’s an incredible resource. I’ll briefly review the organizational arms and also mention two recent reports related to online learning.
ITHAKA is comprised of three arms: JSTOR, Portico, and Ithaka S&R.
JSTOR is a “not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content on a trusted platform of academic journals, primary sources, and books.” If you’ve ever researched a topic at a university library you’ve likely linked into JSTOR in order to access articles from their vast collection of over 1,000 journals representing content in over 50 disciplines. They also run a Current Scholarship Program that represents “JSTOR’s partnership with university presses, societies, and other scholarly publishers to make their current and historical journal issues available on a single, integrated platform, and to ensure long-term preservation of this content.” This content is then made available to both university libraries and to individual researchers via a number of access models.
Founded in 1995 with support from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation, JSTOR eventually merged with the Ithaka organization in 2010 (the two entities shared the same founding president, Kevin M. Guthrie).
Portico is a community-supported digital archive that works with libraries, publishers, and funders to “preserve e-journals, e-books, and other electronic scholarly content to ensure researchers and students will have access to it in the future.” Publishers and libraries fund the organization’s efforts, which are designed to ensure proper rights clearance and ideal technology use for the creation of sustainable, transparent preservation initiatives. In many ways the initiative was born to balance the needs of publishers and libraries with regards to preservation (see the list of participating publishers and list of participating libraries).
This initiative originally started within JSTOR in 2002 as the “Electronic Archiving Initiative”. Portico was officially launched in 2005.
Ithaka S&R is the research and consulting entity of Ithaka that “helps academic, cultural, and publishing communities in making the transition to the digital environment” by focusing on “the transformation of scholarship and teaching in an online environment, with the goal of identifying the critical issues facing our community and acting as a catalyst for change.” Its services encompass five programmatic areas: publishing, sustainability, scholarly practices, teaching and learning, and libraries. It performs research and generates reports in each of these areas, provides strategic consulting, and maintains a blog as well.
Two recent reports by Ithaka S&R have generated a lot of discussion in online learning circles. The first report is entitled “Barriers to Adoption of Online Learning Systems in U.S. Higher Education”. This report sought to understand “what benefits colleges and universities expect from online learning technologies, what barriers they face in implementing them, and how these technologies might be best shaped to serve different types of institutions.” The most sophisticated online learning systems utilize “machine-guided instruction” (adaptive tutoring, etc) to respond to the needs of the learner. But the challenge comes from the fact that most of these systems are complex and hard to customize, thereby thwarting adoption. According to Kevin M. Guthrie, “There’s a tension between the productivity gains that you get from these new systems and the natural inclination of faculty to want to customize their teaching experience” (see Chronicle link below). The findings hi-light the need for sustainable and customizable platforms that support “interactive learning online” (ILO) and stress the need for open, shared data on student performance and learning.
This is a great report that provides a foundation for considering some of the high-level challenges facing the higher education sector with regards to online learning – particularly those challenges that lie at the intersection of technology and pedagogy. For more coverage on this report, see “Next Generation of Online-Learning Systems Faces Barriers to Adoption” (Chronicle of Higher Education).
The second report is entitled “Interactive Learning Online at Public Universities: Evidence from Randomized Trials” and generated a bit more buzz. The research team measured the effect on learning outcomes of a “prototypical” statistics course across two groups on six public university campuses – one group took the course in a hybrid format (“with machine-guided instruction accompanied by one hour of face-to-face instruction each week”) and the other group took the course in a “traditional format…as it is usually offered by their campus, typically with 3-4 hours of face-to-face instruction each week”. The findings were that learning outcomes across the two groups were “essentially the same….that students in the hybrid format ‘pay no price’ for this mode of instruction in terms of pass rates, final exam scores, and performance on a standardized assessment of statistical literacy” and in fact the hybrid group appeared to learn more quickly. However, these courses need to become easier for faculty to customize and they also need to be more engaging and fun for students. The report goes on to propose that “adopting hybrid models of instruction in large introductory courses have the potential to significantly reduce instructor compensation costs in the long run.”
The report emphasizes that the findings don’t represent all online instruction, but just the course design model whereby computer-guided instruction substitutes for some face-to-face instruction. For more coverage on this report, see “Findings give boost to online classes” (Boston Globe), “Study Shows Promise and Challenges of ‘Hybrid’ Courses” (Chronicle of Higher Education), and “Score One for the Robo-Tutors” (Inside Higher Ed).
I highly recommend downloading both reports and also checking out the full list of publications by Ithaka S&R.