ED MAP: Insights Blog

1.25.16 Higher Ed Weekly Read: Articles Worth Reviewing
By JoAnn Rollins


Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

How MIT Plans to Develop Scalable, Differentiated Instruction. “The pedagogy behind Fly-by-Wire modules is based on literature establishing the effectiveness of mastery-based learning, frequent assessment, and rapid feedback. These modules will specify the logic and linkages of learning outcomes, assessment, and targeted feedback, and will feed into the Fly-by-Wire technology component.”

Zombie Ideas Again: “The Learning Pyramid.” “Why does the belief in the ‘Learning Pyramid’ persist in the face of so much counter-evidence? The zombie effect about the ‘Pyramid,’ and here is where I am speculating, reinforces the tilt that so many university teacher educators and workplace practitioners have toward student-centered, experienced-driven learning. Such ways of thinking about better ways of teaching were pushed by early 20th century pedagogical progressives, 1960s-era neo-progressives, and now with the explosion of “personalized” and blended learning, many reformers have shrouded themselves in the cloak of student-centered learning. Progressive rhetoric about student-centered teaching and learning abounds.”

Patents Rethought: Khan Academy Did the Right Thing. “And given the realities that software patents exist and defensive patents are therefore a necessary evil, we should encourage other educational patent holders to do as Khan has done and adopt the same agreement. The Innovator’s Agreement is actually quite clever. To recap the basic idea, companies that adopt the agreement give the inventors who are named on the patent application veto power over the patent’s assertion, except in cases where the company is acting in self-defense in response to legal action against it. More than just a pledge, it is a legally binding document.”

It’s Called Data Analysis And Not Data Synthesis For A Reason. “What I particularly like about the Wernicke description is that he gets to the difference between analysis (detailed examination of the elements or structure of something, typically as a basis for discussion or interpretation) and synthesis (combination or composition, in particular). Data is uniquely suited to the former, the human mind is uniquely suited to the latter.”

National Ed-Tech Plan’s Vision Faces Big Hurdles, Notes ‘Digital-Use Divide.’ “Now, though, the most pressing digital divide has to do with how technology is used in the classroom, the plan contends. The department hopes to see more “active” uses of ed tech, such as coding, creative media production, design, and collaboration with experts. The plan also calls for districts to shift away from buying print textbooks and instead make wider use of digital open educational resources, which are licensed to be free to use, revise, and share.”

Distribution Plus. “But for all the talk about moving past distribution requirements, it turns out that they are alive and well, but with twists that deal with some of the criticisms. That is one of the key findings of a survey — released today by the Association of American Colleges and Universities — of its members on issues such as general education, learning outcomes and teaching approaches. … Other key findings relate to a growing majority of colleges having intended learning goals or outcomes for all students, and some skepticism about whether faculty members are using technology in the most effective ways.”

Automation or empowerment: online learning at the crossroads. “The key question we face is whether online learning should aim to replace teachers and instructors through automation, or whether technology should be used to empower not only teachers but also learners. Of course, the answer will always be a mix of both, but getting the balance right is critical. … We need to start with the problem, which is how do we prepare learners for the knowledge and skills they will need in today’s society. I have argued (Bates, 2015) that we need to develop, in very large numbers of people, high level intellectual and practical skills that require the construction and development of knowledge, and that enable learners to find, analyse, evaluate and apply knowledge appropriately.”

Sympathy Pains. “But the simple fact is that a system built on compliance and the fear of fraud will distrust anything messy. And innovation, by definition, is messy. To an auditor, experiments often look like irregularities. Experiments are good, but irregularities are very, very bad.”

In Defense of Useless Degrees. “A liberal arts degree may seem broad, but my liberal arts training focused on critical thinking, problem solving, effective writing, global stewardship, and leadership. These skills are useful in a majority of careers”

When Students Won’t Do the Reading. “But in student-world, there are only hard deadlines, aka, stuff that’s going to be graded. Everything else is more like a non-deadline. This includes reading for class up until they’re going to be tested on it when it suddenly becomes a hard deadline. The reasons why many students seem to find it difficult to act except in the face of hard deadlines seem fairly obvious. One reason is because hard deadlines are the only deadlines we tend to give.”

Innovating on the Margins: Transforming Higher Education by Working from the Outside In. “Projects having a big impact to the landscape of education require innovative thinking, multidisciplinary teams and bold leadership. At the Innovation Institute, we focus on these key principles in producing products, processes and partnerships that have the potential to change educational practice.”

Boosting Buying Power. “The members of the Higher Education Systems & Services Consortium, also known as HESS, will this month begin to negotiate with companies that produce enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which covers areas such as finances, human resources and student information. In the short term, the consortium hopes to lower the cost of that software, but its long-term plans include a vision of closer collaboration and perhaps sharing services between colleges.”

Our CC Struggle. “All of us get way too many e-mails. We wish that we were not included on so many CC chains. Yet, at the same time we universally complain that we don’t hear what is going on. We all want less e-mails but more information. We want to be consulted – but at the same time we want the folks that we work with to be autonomous, proactive, and independent.”

False Choices. “False choices too often pervade discussions of higher education. Either college is an investment or a series of life changing experiences. Either we can have equity or excellence. Either we emphasize accountability or instructor autonomy and academic freedom. Either we stress content or skills, or coverage or depth.”

Are textbooks behind teachers’ steep learning curve in the classroom? “What we learned was depressing. Not even one of the textbooks in the sample accurately describes all six instructional strategies…or five…or four…or even three. Roughly one in three of the textbooks that were read page for page failed to cover a single one. Most covered one or two. Whether the textbook was published before or after the IES guide made no difference in terms of coverage, even for the most recent editions of six textbooks in the sample, evaluated for the sole purpose of pinning down this conclusion.”

Why Can’t We Have More Productive Conversations? “So does academic thinking inhibit strategic decision making? Not necessarily. For evidence, consider the growth of collaborative research projects that leverage multiple perspectives into successful advances. In collaborative work, researchers seek out the input of others with distinct but overlapping areas of expertise and strive to integrate unique perspectives into current understanding. In so doing, investigators bypass barriers to progress that are created by the boundaries of a single scholar’s own knowledge. We’ve watched that process work especially well in multiple disciplines at our university, and we think the concepts of collaborative research could be effective if applied to institutional decision making as well. The question is how to do that.”

Mobile Consumption vs. Laptop Production. “What this means for education, I think, is that we need to design our content primarily for mobile. Anything that has to do with consumption will occur on a small touch screen. Our text, presentations, and videos all need to be designed mobile first. Worryingly, our main education platform – the learning management system (LMS) – was built first for the browser. Mobile-first / mobile-centric LMS systems have not gained significant market share. My guess is that in some markets, such as executive education, we will start seeing a switch to platforms like Apple’s Private iTunes U Course application – as the mobile app experience is so much superior to that of the browser experience. What I am not saying, however, is that we will see the end of the laptop. I expect that laptops will remain key for education for many years to come. The reason is the keyboard.”

Confessions of a MOOC professor: three things I learned and two things I worry about. “Continuing education courses at colleges and universities have served that public to a certain degree, but it is clear that there is more demand among older students than many might have suspected. Given the chance to learn according to their own schedule and location, many find this option very attractive.”

Philosophers, Welders and the Public Trust. “Inasmuch as scholarly traditions in the liberal arts serve as benchmarks and frameworks for grappling with abiding human questions and concerns, reserving these opportunities only for those who can afford an elite education or live in well-heeled communities has profound consequences in terms of egalitarian principles of justice and fairness. Most important, it thwarts our nation’s historic mission of educating for democracy. We must restore America’s trust in higher education, viewing it not as a private commodity but as a public good — one that all our citizens, whatever their socioeconomic background can access.”

Counter-Cyclical Funding. “Public funding is cyclical, but enrollment is counter-cyclical. Put differently, states and counties are likeliest to reduce their support during recessions, when their tax revenues decline and other forms of spending increase. Those are also the times when enrollments spike. Tuition offers a partial buffer for those funding cuts when recessions hit.”

Networking for Nerds. “From my shallow exploration thus far, these it seems these personal networks don’t involve libraries at all, or even people unless they’re online. What I want is something a little more diffuse. Who are the people most actively exploring the area you’re interested in? Where do they talk to each other? Is there a society or organization that they belong to? Do they present at conferences? Hang out online in more informal conversations through blogs or Twitter? Who funds their research? What are the burning questions in the field right now? Where are the fault lines?”

Social Media, Talking, and Meetings. “With twitter, blogs, comments, listservs, and other platforms – all of us have a place to share our ideas. We can create more of a social media presence and therefore afford to develop less of an in-person presence.”

The 2016 Insight Higher Ed Survey of Chief Academic Officers. “But amid these and other problems, the provosts generally feel good about the academic health of their institutions. And the provosts are generally becoming more open to competency-based education (a form of higher education of which many academics were skeptical just a few years ago). On trigger warnings, one of the hotly debated issues in academe in the last year, the provosts are divided (but leaning toward dubious).”

The Proof Liberal Arts Colleges Need? “The study’s initial results suggest that one can prove that a liberal arts-style education can be associated with greater odds, compared to others with bachelor’s degrees, on such qualities as being a leader, being seen as ethical, appreciating arts and culture and leading a fulfilling and happy life.”

Blackboard Did What It Said It Would Do. Eventually. “Now, half a year after the announcement, the company has released said SaaS offerings. Along with it, they put out an FAQ and a comparison of the tiers. So they said what they were going to do, they did it, and they said what they did. All good. But half a year later?”

Schools maximize free content. “The amount of free online content—and free tools for developing curriculum—has skyrocketed in recent years. … Not all free online resources are created equal. Some websites offer content for free for a limited amount of time, or make some content available but charge for premium access to quizzes and teacher guides. … Other resources are free for online or educational use, but charge for add-ons.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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