The Community of Educational Technology Support works to improve teaching and learning on campus through networking, collaboration, sharing expertise and resources, and advocacy.

The ComETS Cornerstones help guide conversations and community activities:

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A Simple Software Program Improves Graduation Rates at Purdue
by Kristen Hicks
January 13, 2014

Technology helps us wake up in the morning. It helps people stick to workout routines, keep appointments, and create and follow daily to do lists. Should we be surprised that a simple technology could be used to help students take more initiative in school and develop better study habits?

Since 2007, Purdue University has given professors the option to use software called Signals in their courses. The role the software plays is simple: several times throughout the course, based on several metrics of how the student is performing, the professor will update a traffic light displayed on the student’s course website to show a green, yellow or red light.

Students who see their light change will have an immediate gauge on their performance and know whether they need to step up their efforts to succeed in the course. Professors can also choose to include a note along with the update, perhaps reminding a student whose performance is slipping about the extra study sessions available.

While it seems so basic, it really makes a difference. In the same way that someone who has a hard time getting a workout routine started may finally find just what they need in the right smartphone app; for a student who wants to perform well, but just hasn’t figured out the right habits, an early warning system can be just the fix to get them on track.

Purdue researchers aren’t just trusting their gut on this one, the data they’ve collected in the last 5 years bears this out. Students enrolled in only one class that uses Signals show a 20.87% increase in graduation rates. Make it two or more, and the results jump to a 24.36% increase.

One question this raises is: why should there be a need for this? Shouldn’t students be able to take initiative on their own, without a technological crutch? For that matter, shouldn’t professors be able to recognize when a student is falling behind and intercede, without needing data collected from online sources and a symbolic messaging system to do it for them? Ok, maybe that’s three related questions.

Higher education comes with its share of “shoulds.” If the end goal is teaching students how to learn, giving them good habits for doing so, and equipping them with the knowledge they need to succeed in the world, does it really matter what tools you use along the way to get them there?

In larger classes, professors can’t reasonably track the progress of each individual student on a regular basis. While students should be able to recognize when they’re having trouble and be comfortable asking for help, that just isn’t always the case.

Signals is helping overcome obstacles that are causing students to fall through the cracks or give up entirely. Who knew the answer could be as easy as a personalized stop sign?

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Join Us On Yammer

CoMETs communicates on Yammer. Join us!

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Topics Survey: What the UW community wants to know...

The Distance Learning SIG meets approximately 10 times per year covering a variety of topic areas. Our sessions are typically presented by faculty or staff in a case studies type of focus where they present pedagogical practices, what they have learned in the process, and student response to these experiences. 

In Fall of 2013 we ran a survey to find out what topics are of greatest interest for future sessions. Below are the results of this survey. 

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Come to the Annual Meeting!

Hello ComETS!

Start the new year by attending the ComETS Annual Membership Meeting on Friday, January 10 at 2PM. Here are a few reasons you should join us: 
  1. Interact with the Educational Innovation Core Team 
    Linda Jorn, Chris Olsen & Jeff Russell will join us to share insights and facilitate an interactive session titled "Sustaining Educational Innovation: Shaping our Future." 
  2. Connect with a ComETS Special Interest Group (SIG) 
    We'll have more than a dozen SIG/topic tables to visit. Connect with one of our established SIGs or explore forming a group on a new topic (see complete list below).
  3. Network with your colleagues 
    Make new connections and catch up with colleagues while enjoying refreshments courtesy of the CIO's office.

The full agenda is below. For questions, please contact

We hope to see you there!

Jonathan Klein
ComETS Steering Committee

Community of Educational Technology Support - Annual Membership Meeting 
When: January 10, 2014 from 2-4 pm 
Where: Wisconsin Idea Room (rm. 159), Education Building 


Welcome & Introductions 


Community: Using Yammer to connect with ComETS online


ComETS Membership Award


Introduction of Keynote Speakers


Sustaining Educational Innovation: Shaping our Future

Linda Jorn, Associate Vice Provost for Learning Technologies & Director of DoIT Academic Technology

Chris Olsen, Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning & Professor of Public Health

Jeff Russell, Vice Provost for Lifelong Learning & Dean of the Division of Continuing Studies



Introduction of ComETS Special Interest Groups & Topic Tables


ComETS Special Interest Groups (SIG) & Topic Table Discussions 

Connect with members of a ComETS SIG and/or educational technology topic table during three 10 minute mini-discussions.   

SIG: Accessibility
SIG: Analytics
SIG: Assessment
SIG: Clickers
SIG: Distance Education
SIG: Learning Spaces
SIG: Mobile Learning
Topic: Moodle
Topic: Social Media/Yammer
Topic: CSCR
Topic: Leadership
Topic: Immersive Learning Environments
Topic: Multimedia/Media Arts Production
Topic: Instructional Design

Topic: Copyright/Open Educational Materials/E-Texts




Networking & Refreshments

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OK, Blended Learning — How about Blended Teaching?

I'm a conscientious teacher. I work pretty hard to ensure that learning activities are driven foremost by learning goals, and I work pretty hard to avoid "easy-for-me; crappy-for-student" learning activities, where they spit back content in multiple choice tests. But there's no denying that I get really tired doing it this way. And there's no denying that I mess up from time to time. And sometimes I really long for the simplicity and clarity that quantitative, multiple-choice assessment offers in spades.

Because good pedagogy is often a pain in the butt, and doing "blended learning" without falling back on often pedagogically-light teaching methods promises to be much more work, I'm very interested in collecting, developing, and sharing the best of the best tips and tricks for doing blended learning easily.

How do we maximize the best aspects of technological integration — not only to increase learning, but to keep the administrative aspects of teaching reasonable!?

Failure Story

This semester, I had my students do peer reviews of each others' final presentations. My thoughts were: 

  • learning to give good feedback takes practice, and some prodding. I asked them to note that the required points were covered (checklist), and add one positive and one "could improve" thing about each presentation.
  • I said I'd grade the feedback, hoping this would deepen the thoughtfulness of the comments.
  • this would also, I figured, encourage them to pay attention to each others' presentations, so they could learn from each other.
  • and I said I'd share the comments their peers made for their presentations with them, so they didn't just have my comments, but had each others'.

A terrible, terrible idea.

What I didn't recognize at the time was that this tremendously increased the administrative element of the assignment for me.

  1. I  stapled the peer review sheets together, so they could fold over each review after they were done and have some sense of privacy about what they were saying, without worrying about their neighbors seeing everything. But that meant that I got back 20 packets of 20 review sheets.
  2. Collating them involved putting 4 on a copier at a time folded open to the same student, and stapling the legal sheets together.
  3. I then read through the comments for each presentation, highlighted common themes that the students noticed, and added my own thoughts and grade.
  4. To share them back with the students, I scanned each set of 5 sheets, and emailed the scans back to the students.
  5. Then I went through each of the Peer Reviewers' packets and graded them for writing two comments (+,–). 2 points each slip, 2 points for the checklist, 40 points total. I didn't give back the feedback slips they filled out.

So, it was a nice idea, but an awful one as far as end-of-semester workload went. A terrible idea.

Next time

computer browser versionWe are lucky to have Google Apps here on campus. One of the apps is Google Forms. Had I used Google forms instead of packets of paper, my students could have filled out a form like this on their laptop (right), and if they didn't bring a laptop, it would look like this on their mobile device (below).

mobile browser viewmobile browser view

And instead of collating the forms by hand, I could easily sort them in Google Spreadsheets, or send them to Excel if I preferred, and manipulate them there. 

And instead of sending the students emails of pics of photocopies of the feedback they got, I could have copy/pasted the data.

Lesson Learned

The lesson here is that technology can help us include good teaching practices that might otherwise be cumbersome — such as student peer review of presentations. And sometimes we have to fail miserably in able to figure out a better way. It wasn't until I was hunched over the copier, holding folded packets straight that it occurred to me that Google Forms would have worked better. Now I know.

Granted, as an Education PhD, I like to try new pedagogical approaches, and sometimes I suffer in my failed attempts. And I'm okay with that because teaching, for me, is more than half about my own learning and research. As long as the students keep learning (and they seem to roll with it, for the most part, I'll probably keep experimenting, and failing, and iterating to improve.

And I'll keep you posted.

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