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Science & Technology - Business & Entrepreneurship

Professor Holds Contest to Create 'Edumemes'

January 30, 2015

The Edumemes contest open, to Dragon students. Image by Arvid E. Roach.
The Edumemes contest open, to Dragon students. Image by Arvid E. Roach.

Over the years, Professor Donald McEachron, PhD, noticed that students sometimes don’t hear things the way he thinks he said them.

“You’re never sure if they have a question,” said McEachron, teaching professor and coordinator of academic assessment and quality improvement for the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems. “Even if you give them the opportunity in case, they seldom take it. But, in many cases, it’s because they don’t yet understand enough of what you’ve said to ask a question.”

As such, McEachron began requiring students to participate in a special type of online message board built for his class. He said there were “built-in reflections” that were almost like a survey.

Questions posed by McEachron in the message board prompted student responses, which eventually turned into students answering each others’ questions.

“Five to six weeks into the course, they began asking questions in lecture,” McEachron said.

Donald McEachron, PhD, the person behind the Edumemes contest.
Donald McEachron, PhD, the person behind the Edumemes contest.

It’s a success story for a custom piece of teaching technology that aided his students’ classroom experience. McEachron hopes a contest he’s holding will create more and better ones.

Several years ago, McEachron and his colleagues came up with an idea for better integrating apps into higher learning.

At the time, there were few options for students other than simply searching the Internet. More recently, McEachron said, several new options have become available for such things, including iTunes Academy and the Khan Academy. However, even these newer approaches are not always tailored to respond to students’ learning needs, he said.

“Say I need to know the thermodynamics of membrane transfer,” McEachron posited. “If you search the Web, you often get a course rather than the specific answer you were looking for.”

So instead of getting an easy-to-translate modular app focused on a specific topic, a student would have to pore over an entire separate online course to better understand the Drexel course with which they were already struggling.

In many cases, once items were posted, they were not always updated and, running the risk of becoming stagnant.

“The evaluation process varies from site to site,” he said. “In many cases, the only evaluation is that of a free market: If people download it, then they like it. This is not the same as a validation and it does not incorporate effective user and expert feedback. As a result, the content does not always evolve to match student needs or the state of the topic."  

Additionally, if a professor were to find a specific item on one of the existing services to be used in a class, it could be there today, gone tomorrow.

“You’re not in control of it so they just disappear periodically,” McEachron said of online items. “You tell a student to use a module and it might not be there.”

Taking all of that into account, McEachron decided that the idea of an online, educational app store needed to be “reinvented,” but he didn’t really have the means.

“What is needed are focused, modular learning elements or units that facilitate students’ ability to learn a very specific topic, or instructional units that augment an instructor’s ability to enhance student learning,” McEachron suggested. “App-like items that promote learning in context for Drexel students.”

Eventually, though, he figured out that the University has a great resource: Drexel students. To attract their creative technical skills to populate a database with educational apps, which McEachron termed “Edumemes,” he came up with the concept of a contest.

Cash prizes of up to $5,000 are being offered for the best app submissions for use by students (Learner or L-Memes) or teachers (Instructor or I-Memes).

Anyone interested would first submit his or her idea through a process available here by March 15. After submitting the idea, the entrant is expected to create their “Edumeme” and eventually upload it for judging.

There are five top prizes set for the contest, which is expected to wrap up at the end of the spring quarter.

Once McEachron has a roster of the apps put together in a database (The EduMemes Portal), he hopes to attract funding, whether private or through government grants, to keep the database current, running and vibrant.

Key to that, he said, is that the apps upgrade and remain up for review to properly adjust any bugs or challenges associated with the apps.

“We’ll say, ‘This is what we’ve done,’ and a part of you using these is you give feedback,” McEachron said.

Effectively, McEachron hopes once the apps come in, Drexel could be a sort of beta-testing community before expanding the collection of “Edumemes” to the rest of the academic world.

“The ultimate goal is to develop and maintain an evolving set of L-Memes and I-Memes that continuously change to meet the changing needs of various educational communities,” McEachron said. “If students are able to access L-Memes to facilitate their learning and reinforce their skills in an effective and efficient manner and instructors are able to keep up with and implement the latest teaching techniques without having to search the educational literature, the EduMemes concept will have succeeded.”

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