September 26, 2023: USDLA News Learn from our sponsors: Harmonize, Instructure, and D2L

Hello, USDLA friends! At our 2023 National Conference in July, we had the honor of interviewing our sponsors, and we are posting those videos on our YouTube channel, USDLA.tv.

Below, find our interview with Marcus Popetz, CEO and co-founder of 42Lines, and the creator of the Harmonize collaboration tool set, which helps institutions improve student success and retention by providing an elevated online learning experience that focuses on accessible student engagement and freeing up instructor’s time to teach. Passionate about finding new ways to fill gaps in education technology, Marcus has more than 18 years of experience in EdTech and online learning in K-12, higher education, and professional development. “I believe in collaborating with customers to help them bridge the gap between business needs and technology solutions so they can achieve their goal of helping every student succeed,” shares Marcus who has developed admissions, course creation, and financial aid software, as well as a custom learning management system. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Scroll down for our Q&A with Marcus.

Learn more on USDLA.tv:

  • Click here to watch our video interview with Harmonize.
  • Be sure to check out additional USDLA sponsors, including D2L and Instructure.

Mark your calendar:

  • USDLA Free Friday webinars, 1-2pm Eastern: Click here to check out upcoming and past events usdla.org/webinars.
  • Sept. 28, 6pm: NEDLA Webinar, “Out of this world — Teaching STEAM with Music,” presented by music educator and NASA Space Station Ambassador Laurie Orth. Find details below.
  • National Distance Learning Week is Nov. 6-10. Click here for more information.
  • March 1, 2024: Save the Date — The New Jersey Distance Education Affinity Group (NJDEAG), a New Jersey Community College Council (NJCCC) committee, is proud to present its second annual distance education conference. Learn about technological innovation, research, and practical and effective pedagogical practices for various distance education modalities. Find details below and learn more at teach.mccc.edu/conferences
  • And if you haven’t already, please subscribe to our new YouTube channel — www.USDLA.tv.

We’ll be back in touch on Thursday with our USDLA Brief. Until then, all the best to you! —  USDLA Communications Committee


Q&A with Harmonize’s creator Marcus Popetz

USDLA: Tell us about Harmonize — its history and goals for the future.

Harmonize: Our goal is to help instructors engage their students in an accessible way while saving instructors time so they can spend more time on teaching vs. classroom administration. We started building a better discussion board inside the LMS and then moved into Social Annotations, allowing for PDF, video, and image annotations. We continued adding features like Q+A forums, student-centric group chat, and polling features to breathe life into all aspects of the course content/structure. Our company has been building education software for almost two decades, and when we looked at the current LMS toolset, we found it VERY lacking, so we launched Harmonize to give instructors the tools they need to engage their students. In doing so, we kept the instructor at the center of what we do because they’re mostly overworked, so any 5-minute task we could take off their place led to 5 minutes more they could spend engaging their students.

USDLA: What have been your organization’s biggest challenges? 

Harmonize: The biggest challenge has been helping the educators at a school convince the administration that they should spend money on a collaboration toolset. The place where instructors begin is our replacement for the built-in discussion board, and then they move on to social annotations, QA forums, Polling, etc. However, the LMSes all already have a discussion board, so the primary question is, “why should we buy another discussion board” especially when the budget is limited and instructors’ needs vary. That problem has been receding now that schools are shifting their focus to online education as the main growing education segment (see the CHLOE report for data on this), and people are knocking down our door to try it out.

USDLA: Tell us about your organization’s big wins and what you look forward to in the coming years.

Harmonize: Our most exciting win has been integrating with ChatGPT to help scale instructional design into their courses. With one click, we’re generating discussion prompts for instructors that are based on sound instructional strategies so now they have a great tool set to engage their students AND they have a good, pedagogy backed, activity to keep their students engaging.

USDLA: As a sponsor to our organization, has USDLA been helpful in your efforts?

Harmonize: Early on, USDLA helped us co-host webinars, and attending the USDLA conference has been a great way for us to talk to people really focused on distance education. That has helped us get the word out but has also provided a place for us to learn from USDLA members about their wants and needs. We look forward to doing a webinar for the members soon.

Learn more: harmonizelearning.com


RESEARCH OF THE WEEK: Case Study on why Harmonize works

Meridian Community College (MCC) is dedicated to improving the quality of life for its local community, serving a diverse set of cultural and occupational needs. With nearly 3,000 students, MCC offers campus-based and distance learning experiences leading to certificates, associate degrees, and university transfer in more than 40 areas of study, including healthcare and manufacturing.

Meridian integrated Harmonize, a suite of online discussion and collaboration tools, with Canvas to facilitate stronger student engagement. MCC chose to use Harmonize across all disciplines to support various learning styles and to drive better learning outcomes for the 30% of students taking online courses.

THE CHALLENGE: Meridian Creates a Level Playing Field to Boost Student Engagement in Online Courses

By offering non-credit and career certificates and technical degree programs, MCC helps students gain the skills needed to join the workforce. More than 35% of students over the age of 25 are enrolled part-time — meaning MCC serves a significant working student population, which puts a considerable number of students at risk for attrition. Also located in a largely low-income, rural area, the institution is increasing access to workforce training opportunities by delivering online learning that provides flexibility, equal access, and the same high-quality learning opportunities that full-time, on-campus students experience.

To build the best online distance education program in the country, MCC is focused on differentiating itself to attract students, expanding learning options for an underserved student population, and increasing completion rates.

To achieve these goals, the institution is:

  • Supporting faculty with digital tools that drive online engagement,
  • Increasing student collaboration and student-to-instructor communication, and
  • Easing the barriers that often limit student participation in online and blended courses

THE HARMONIZE SOLUTION: Developing Unique and Personalized Learning Experiences

As learning models evolve, Meridian Community College is invested in designing learning experiences for the modern student, whether it be on campus, fully online, or blended — allowing students to choose the options that work best for them. In addition to increasing access, MCC focused on improving the level of engagement for students enrolled in online programs. To do that, Meridian leveraged Harmonize to create better connections and collaboration among students and instructors. From easy-to-access polls and Q&A to more cohesive discussion boards and multiple milestone due dates, instructors were able to elicit more frequent and ongoing participation from students in their online courses.

SUCCESS IN ACTION: Math Studies

For example, in online math courses, students are prompted by multiple due dates to contribute to course discussions and participate in practice equation sessions. These milestone practice sessions have increased student participation and collaboration in a discipline not traditionally known for collaborative work, proving versatility across disciplines. “Harmonize is a powerful resource for student engagement. It allows students to reinforce mathematical topics they are learning each week,” said Crystal Sterling, Mathematics Instructor at Meridian Community College.

Further, a familiar feeling interface and intuitive in-app content tools made it easier for students to create and submit videos, audio snippets, or text contributions to discussion boards. With auto-captioning, anonymous posting, and multi-device availability, Harmonize drastically reduced the barriers preventing students from actively participating in online courses — especially important for diverse learners and non-traditional students juggling multiple responsibilities.

Click here to find more case studies: harmonizelearning.com/client-stories


NEDLA Webinar Thursday, September 28, 6 pm: 

Out of this World: Teaching STEAM with Music

Presenter: Laurie Orth, Music Educator and NASA Space Station Ambassador

About the Webinar: This dynamic session combines two contrasting disciplines of space exploration and music. It creates a pipeline for young people into STEAM educational programs through music.

In this session: You will learn about the connection of arts in STEAM/STEM education and the many ways to help inspire students’ interest in technical fields through their love of the arts and space education.

About the presenter: In more than two decades of teaching in various settings, since 2012, Laurie Orth has been teaching general music classes to the homeschool community in Augusta, Georgia. An independent contractor at the Jessye Norman School for the Arts, she has taught workshops for the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia featuring women in aerospace and rockets. In 2021, Laurie spearheaded a Project Learning activity for her students at Savannah River Academy to create a space-themed music YouTube video, Space Explorers Anthem, in preparation for an ARISS Downlink with the ISS. In July 2022, Laurie was a guest instructor at the Douglas Space and Science Foundation Inc.’s Star Camp in Ogden, Utah. In 2019, Laurie published her first book, Rocket Recorder: Volume One, an innovative music workbook for recorder students that introduces space exploration. She has presented her STEAM curriculum internationally and is a frequent podcast guest. In 2023, she launched a digital download product, Rocket Recorder – Satellite Edition, available exclusively through Music CoConstructedLaurie serves as a Space Station Ambassador for the ISS National Lab’s CASIS program, is a Teacher Liaison with the Space Foundation and is President of the Savannah Chapter of the Air and Space Forces Association. In 2019, she was selected as a NASA social media influencer. In June 2023, Laurie heads to NASA Johnson Space Center to attend the prestigious LiftOff2023 Institute for STEM Educators to learn about planetary defense and asteroids. Learn more at www.laurieorth.com.

Register for this session: www.NEDLA.org.


Save The Date: March 1, 2024

The New Jersey Distance Education Affinity Group (NJDEAG), a committee of the New Jersey Community College Council (NJCCC), is proud to present its second annual distance education conference. It showcases technological innovation, research, and practical and effective pedagogical practices for various distance education modalities, such as fully online, hybrid/blended, concurrent/blended synchronous, remote, and hyflex.

Tracks for this year’s conference will examine:

  • Leadership and Innovation
  • Creativity in Teaching and Learning
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The Conference will be held at The Conference Center at Mercer, Mercer County Community College — 1200 Old Trenton Rd., West Windsor, NJ 08550

Click here to learn more: teach.mccc.edu/conferences