We’ve caught Olympic fever here at CUOL! This month we took a cue from the Sochi Games, exploring teaching and learning through game techniques.

In this Issue: (pdf copy)

-Kevin Cheung – Professor Profile

-Kyle Gasper: Tales from the Field

The Future of Online Learning

Tech Corner – NTC


Kevin Cheung- Professor Profile

Using game techniques, apps and an acclaimed YouTube series, Dr. Kevin Cheung is reigniting his students’ excitement about math. 

When Dr. Kevin Cheung kicked off his introductory linear algebra course this semester, he was faced with a challenge—how to best serve material to a group of students with disparate math backgrounds.

His formula? A blended approach to teaching, including in-class working sessions, a YouTube series, and gamification—applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more engaging.

He started the course by directing his class to solve an online puzzle called Lights Out. After the students had played around with the red-and-black squares covering the web page, Cheung showed them how it can be modeled mathematically. It’s a process Cheung also uses in his weekly online quizzes, allowing students up to five attempts with only the highest score counted.

“It’s kind of like in a game, you’re given five lives before game is over,” says Cheung. “What I noticed is that almost all students would automatically make further attempts if they haven’t obtained the score they desired. I even see some students making further attempts even after getting 100% on their second attempt. That’s the kind of behaviour that I think most instructors would like to see.”

MATH 1107 R Linear Algebra I is an introductory course geared towards science students who are not in a mathematics, physics, or computer science program. Because this may be the only math course they will have to take for their program, Cheung’s goal is to make his students see that there is nothing inherently difficult about linear algebra, and to get young people excited about learning math using technology.

“It became clear to me that an online version of the course could serve the target audience very well,” he says. “I think students want to learn when they feel they want to learn. With focus and practice, the materials can be mastered and the journey could be enjoyable as well.”

Making that journey as fun and engaging as possible has been Cheung’s modus operandi since starting the course in winter 2012. He began creating online videos to accompany his lectures in August of that year, and by September his channel was selected as one of the top 10 in the YouTube Next EDU Guru contest. After attending a training session at the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, Cheung was awarded the Khan Academy Prize by its founder Salman Khan.

“The highlight for me was getting to meet Vi Hart and Salman Khan, whose work I find truly refreshing and inspiring. I also got autographs from both of them,” says Cheung.

Khan Academy’s no-holds-barred educational mantra is reflected in Cheung’s innovative or approach to teaching—if the perfect tool outlet doesn’t exist, he’ll create it. Cheung developed an app called Doce Nos for Mac two years ago after finding there wasn’t an app that fit his work flow—one that allowed him to stream content to an external display and annotate over it without mirroring his desktop.

His current endeavors include a collaborative project with CHEO on modeling placenta growth, Cheung’s first health-related project, and a bid to get funding for a 3D virtual environment for the online office hours and student discussion forum.

“Even though BigBlueButton and Adobe Connect are great web-conferencing solutions, the presence is still a bit two-dimensional and thus creating a certain level of disconnect,” says Cheung. “I know there are companies that already offer 3D solutions. But I want to explore open- source offerings and see how far we could go in that direction. And if I have any time left, I hope to start developing another online course.”


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Kyle Gasper 

A student of Professor Cheung’s shares his CUOL success story

For students like Kyle Gasper, the way a subject is taught can mean the difference between anxiety and an A+.

“I can’t maintain attention well in one-way communication lectures,” he says. “My attention is active, and so I excel in reading, reflecting, writing, practicing, and discussing. I enrolled [in CUOL] to avoid aspects of the education system detrimental to my personal learning style.”

Gasper graduated with a Bachelor of Humanities in 2010 and continues to take math courses at night, opting for Professor Kevin Cheung’s linear algebra CUOL course this semester. What he found in the course paralleled his positive experience with the well-known online education platform, Khan Academy.

“I did terribly at math in high school,” says Gasper. “I was inexperienced. Khan brought me up to speed so I could take calculus at Carleton, and I obtained an A+.”

Gasper describes Professor Cheung’s teaching style as presented in human language, steering clear of the technical jargon in which some math and science courses can get tangled. He knows his audience, and builds his lessons out of math they already know and understand, rather than starting in unfamiliar territory and working backwards.

“He is adept in anticipating what we would not already know,” he says. “His language is slow, accurate, and expressed carefully in words the audience would understand.”

Among the wealth of materials Prof. Cheung uses are a series of YouTube videos on his Math Apptician channel— a helpful accent to the lectures for those students who need a crash course on anything from mathematical proofs to rational numbers. Gasper’s one addition to the course would be step-by-step solutions to the problems provided in tutorial, but has found that overall, the course design has been a near-perfect match to his unique learning style.

“I am enjoying the material and learning much more quickly than usual, owing to fewer deadweight losses and high-grade teaching materials,” he wrote in an email to Prof. Cheung in January.

Gasper hopes to continue a Masters degree in Public Administration, as well as continuing to study maths and statistics.

Who else would he recommend the course to?

“Anyone who can’t handle lectures (like me), but can handle videos and provided course notes, which contain all the video content,” he says. “Of course, it’s also excellent for anyone who can’t or can’t easily be on campus.”


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The Future of Online Learning

World authority on e-education Sir John Daniel presents a special briefing at Carleton U.

Sir John Daniel is an eyewitness to the extremes of online education. From his post at the Collège Universitaire de Hearst, then the world’s smallest university with only 30 students, to becoming the vice-chancellor of The Open University with more than 250,000 students, Daniel has seen both ends of the spectrum in the realm of online learning.

Now a research associate for Contact North, Daniel brought his range of expertise to Carleton in late January to discuss the future of e-learning, touching on everything from the changing nature of the student body and how it interacts with technology, to the myths of learning online, to opportunities for growth and betterment as it rapidly evolves.

“These are, I think everyone agrees, turbulent times in post-secondary education,” said Daniel, while a photo of the Maid of the Mist heading into Niagara Falls appears behind him. The slide changes to show colourful rays of light beaming down from the falls. “The hope is that instead of going under the falls and getting drowned in all the change that’s coming, one will find somewhere the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Studies on the state of the online-learning union show a slight uptick in the average age of those engaging in online learning (from the late 20s to early 30s), as well as dispelling myths about the “digital age” generation gap—there is no real difference between older and younger people when it comes to online education.

But at the same time, less governmental support and a diversified student body means students are paying more to study. In essence, there’s a new emphasis on productivity and cost.

To explain this, Daniel uses his signature “Iron” triangle, with points connected with access, quality and cost. The challenge, he says, is extending the triangle to make access wider, quality higher, and cost lower.

“This has been a challenge for education throughout history, and this is what has caused the insidious link in the minds of most of the public between quality and exclusivity,” says Daniel. “But, the good news is that with technology, you can extend the triangle.”

One example of this extension is MOOCs, in which the “access” point of the triangle stretches to millions of students worldwide. However, Daniel is skeptical of MOOCs, calling them “recreational learning.” His definition of higher education involves some kind of credential that helps the student in his or her future—MOOCs, with their lack of degree, credit or certification, aren’t really contributing to solving the problem of Generation Jobless, he says.

But that’s not to say they can’t reap some of the same benefits as higher education. Daniel points out that studies have shown there is no significant difference in online vs. in-class learning, and student satisfaction points to tech-based teaching being very high quality.

“While I’m critical of MOOCs per se, I think that they’re accelerating some helpful trends—more online learning, shorter courses, new types of awards, and partnerships,” says Daniel.

And his other predications regarding online education? Daniel expects blended learning to evolve, balancing costs and flexibility, as well as physical assets (buildings, et cetera). He discussed the challenges involved with assessment, calling it a “red herring” in the online learning world. However, these hurdles are now being met with hoards of new technologies to protect against plagiarism.

“The NSA would be proud,” he says with a laugh.

Daniel left his audience with the notion of instilling a culture of quality in online education, with a book he helped edit titled A Guide to Quality in Online Learning.

“Online teaching and learning is key to the future of colleges and universities,” he says. “I hope you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as you move Carleton University more online.”


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Tech Corner: Nike+ Training Club

A resolution-worthy app that employs gamification to keep you fit.

What better time than hot on the heels of your New Year’s resolution (remember those running shoes you swore you’d dust off come January 1st?) to replace Candy Crush on your home screen with something a little more stimulating—but equally as addictive?

The much buzzed-about Nike+ Training Club app is a pocket personal trainer that definitely won’t go easy on you. It was recently updated to better motivate its users, with four-week training programs and customizable individual workouts to keep you moving.

By measuring calories, tracking progress and prompting you to try challenges, the app uses a gamification platform that turns working out from a strain into a social sport. Where traditional workouts rely mainly on personal gratification, the app gives you credit for your hard work in its own currency, Fuel Points. You can even connect your shoes to your iPhone or FuelBand to track workouts on the go. Select your level (beginner, intermediate or advanced), desired goals (get lean, get toned, get strong or get focused) create programs with other users and add playlists to keep you pumped up.

The gamified platform establishes an environment that’s equal parts team spirit and personal achievement, from the “welcome to the team” introductory emails, to the tailor-made workouts curated by athletes like Maria Sharapova and Sydney Leroux, to the virtual “trophies” awarded for attaining fitness goals.

With more than 11 million members to interact and “compete” with, it turns getting in shape into a social, incentivized experience—much like Professor Cheung’s approach to a gamified linear algebra course. Even if it’s just with yourself, establishing a competitive, goal-oriented environment can turn chores into positive enforcement, whether it’s housed in the palm of your hand or the sole of your shoe.


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