Athabasca University researchers focus on innovations for educational resilience
Athabasca University researchers presented their work on educational innovations as part of the Tenth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning last week in Calgary
What does it mean when we say that world’s leading experts on open and distance education gather to discuss important educational issues at the Tenth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning?
It means researchers from Athabasca University (AU) and other institutions all around the world shared what they have been working on, with an end goal of improving access to education, and increasing the lifelong benefits of education, for all learners.
We have collected a small sample of the work AU researchers presented at the conference.
Virtual work experience
AU’s artificial intelligence-powered courses, ADMN 233, COMM 243, and ADMN 405, represent innovative ways to provide valuable work-experience opportunities to learners—no matter where in the world they are or what other time commitments they’re balancing in their lives.
Faculty of Business professors Richard Dixon, Dr. Glen Farrelly, and Dr. Deborah Hurst presented their work in a session titled, Enhancing Online Courses Through AI-Powered Experiential Learning. The panel talk focused on how this kind of AI-powered simulation can provide students with the opportunity to deeper cognitive and affective learning outcomes than more traditional static approaches.
“As a result of our work, we have provided students with access to more meaningful experiential learning and skill building in a much more accessible, flexible, and scalable format,” Hurst said. “Students access the virtual world we create as individuals and leave as skilled future-work-ready graduates.”
“Students access the virtual world we create as individuals and leave as skilled future-work-ready graduates.”– Dr. Deborah Hurst, associate professor, Faculty of Business
Electronic work portfolios support lifelong learning
Dr. Debra Hoven, AU colleagues Dr. Pamela Walsh and Dr. Rita Zuba Prokopetz, and doctoral candidate Rima Al Tawil shared work they’ve done with electronic portfolios, or e-portfolios, in their paper, Communities of learning and support through e-portfolios: Student empowerment, and lifelong learning for students AND teachers.
The team discussed how e-portfolios can be used in online, blended, or in-person learning, and reported on a research investigation into professional or learning development opportunities for those working with e-portfolios at universities across Canada.
“e-portfolios represent pedagogical process innovation by increasing access to learning opportunities through various devices from mobile to desktop, promoting learner empowerment by making learning visible and tangible to learners and teachers through multimodal documentation,” Hoven said.
Improving the quality of online education
How can we ensure the quality of online education? This is the question Dr. Harris Wang, a professor in AU’s School of Computing and Information Systems, seeks to answer in his paper, Innovative technologies enabling better quality online education.
He notes this question is even more important given the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which demonstrated the importance of online education all around the world. He presented a system called Knowledge-Based Integrated Education System, which integrates education management, content management, learning management, and other functionalities needed to run an educational institution or just to teach a course online.
“The system and technologies to be presented at the conference will allow any capable body to run a university, vocational college, K-12 schools or just a class online easily,” he said. “It will allow any capable person to play a role, or multiple roles, effectively and efficiently in education, and allow universities, colleges, and schools to share educational resources easily.”
Science students have some new options to turn professional development opportunities thanks to an innovative collaboration between PowerED™ by Athabasca University and researchers at the Faculty of Science and Technology.
Science dean Dr. Shauna Zenteno said the 2 groups worked together to develop three micro-credentials—Ethics and Artificial Intelligence; Innovative and Diversified Energy Resources; and Energy Efficiency in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Industry. Those who complete the programs can earn credits to ladder into the Bachelor of Science and Technology program.
The team presented its work and a paper, Preparing Lifelong Learners for a Diversifying Economy Through Micro-Credentials and Laddering at Athabasca University.
“This paper presents the development of lifelong learning opportunities through micro-credentials to build resilience in education,” Zenteno said. “Micro-credentials are accessible and flexible offerings that allow learners to obtain specific employment skills.”
“Micro-credentials are accessible and flexible offerings that allow learners to obtain specific employment skills.”– Dr. Shauna Zenteno, dean, Faculty of Science and Technology
Using data and AI to enhance learning
Online learning provides the opportunity to quantify aspects of the learning experience that aren’t necessarily quantified in typical university settings. This includes quality and usage of the course content, as well as data about the study habits and learning outcomes of learners.
AU researchers Dr. Vive Kumar and Dr. Mohamed Ally, along with co-authors from other institutions, presented a paper titled Cognification in Education: Emerging Trends. This paper looks at cognification as an emerging area that explores data analytics as a way to combine natural and artificial intelligence with the goal to enhance learning experiences.
“Cognification is the approach to make something increasingly, ethically, and regulatably smart,” Kumar explained. “Online learning mechanisms can now be infused with cognification to yield both data and models.”
This can help better understand how learners interact with course content and help inform individualized study pathways to support learners’ success.