ED MAP: Insights Blog

1.26.15 Higher Ed Weekly Read: Articles Worth Reviewing
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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Teach or Perish. “But no decision we ever made could have been more catastrophic than this one: Somewhere along the way, we spiritually and emotionally disengaged from teaching and mentoring students. The decision—which certainly hasn’t ingratiated us to the job-seeking generation—has resulted in one whopper of a contradiction. While teaching undergraduates is, normally, a large part of a professor’s job, success in our field is correlated with a professor’s ability to avoid teaching undergraduates. It follows from this contradiction that the more accomplished the scholar, the less she or he is required to engage with students.”

State Spending on Higher Education Inches Up, but Fiscal Pitfalls Remain. “The annual survey is the latest sign that spending on higher education is inching its way back from the impact of the recession, when plummeting state revenues and increasing enrollments combined to push per-student spending to its lowest levels in a quarter-century. In all, 39 states recorded one-year increases in spending on higher education, ranging from 0.1 percent in Maine to 14.6 percent in Colorado. (A 21-percent increase in Illinois reflects the state’s increased contribution to pensions for college and university employees, the report said.)”

Checkered Recovery Continues. “States are under all kinds of pressure, even as they overcome the consequences of the recession. K-12 education and healthcare programs are often mandatory programs that eat up state budgets, while higher education is usually considered more discretionary. Energy producing states are also on watch because of falling oil prices. Other states have been taking nearly constant losses, with little light on the horizon.”

Taxes and Education. “The White House estimated that the combined impact of the tax benefit proposals would provide students with $2,500 in educational aid a year for up to five years; the current American Opportunity Tax Credit is available for four years. The White House also projected — without details — that its plans would cut taxes for 8.5 million families and students and simplify taxes for the 25 million students and families who claim education tax credits.”

About Inside Higher Ed Selling Majority Stake. “In my mind, IHE made a serious mistake by not publicizing the acquisition back in November and issuing a blanket disclosure. I don’t fault them for selling the controlling stake in the company, especially given the lack of a paywall. But I do fault them for not realizing how the lack of disclosure created the opportunity for a advocate to publicly challenge them. … There are two types of disclosure that are relevant – a blanket disclosure announcing a key event such as the sale of the majority of company shares, proactively distributed and available; and article-specific disclosures if IHE articles reference companies tied to their owners. IHE seems to be relying on the latter, but their credibility will take a hit by not doing the former.”

New Coalition for Adaptive Science Courses. “A group of 24 colleges and universities have teamed up to develop and share online courses that are designed to help students complete general-science education courses. Arizona State University and Smart Sparrow, an ‘adaptive’ learning company, helped create the group, which is dubbed the Inspark Science Network. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation contributed a $4.5-million grant to the project.”

Thoughts on the Cuomo Proposal. “The part that’s sticking in my craw, though, is the part about remaining in the state. I don’t blame the governor for that, necessarily; it’s probably a concession to political necessity. But it puts a ceiling on young people’s aspirations, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. A new college grad is looking at opportunities everywhere, and rightly so. We need them to do that. Those are the years of maximum mobility, when students can and should follow opportunity wherever it leads. That may involve remaining local, as in the case of most community college graduates, or it may involve moving across state lines to join a hot startup or enroll in a top program. Tying people to one state will reduce their options and, in the aggregate, their productivity.”

Performance-based funding in community colleges hinders success of at risk students. “McKinney says his study is about improving success among the community college students of Texas. It includes recommendations to provide direct funding incentives in the PBF model for the success of one or more at-risk student groups, to introduce measures that wouldn’t punish institutions for experimenting with new programs to increase student success, and to better understand the impact of PBF on community colleges before a larger proportion of state funds are tied to the model.”

FCC Commissioner to Tech Industry: It’s Time to Reinvent Textbooks, Teaching. “Citing more statistics to support her call to action, she observed that 50 percent of the jobs in the current economy require some level of digital skills. Based on trends, this estimation will grow to 77 percent in the next decade. In response, she said textbooks might be supplanted with digital counterparts. Software, online platforms or apps that do more than just present the facts about a subject, but engage students on an interactive level. Astronomy might have virtual tours of the universe, biology an exploration of cell structure, and other curriculums similarly enhanced through digital devices and applications. Praise was also given for digital textbooks or sites that not only provide knowledge, but also hold students accountable to demonstrate their education with games, tests and other interactive assignments.”

College Students Think They’re Ready for the Work Force. Employers Aren’t So Sure. “In addition to comparing views on job readiness, the report covers several other topics, including the extent to which employers value recent college graduates with specific knowledge and broad skills. The study found that a majority of employers feel both are needed for a successful career—something the association agrees with, given its focus on liberal education.”

Well-Prepared in Their Own Eyes. “As shown on the bar chart below from AACU, students consistently rank themselves as prepared in areas where employers do not agree. The area where students and employers are the closest to being aligned is in staying current with new technologies, where 37 percent of employers think students are well-prepared and 46 percent of students think that. But in a number of key areas (oral communication, written communication, critical thinking, being creative), students are more than twice as likely as employers to think that students are being well-prepared. And these are the kinds of qualities that many colleges say are hallmarks of a liberal education.”

Why Colleges Are Like Cable Companies. “There’s just one problem. All the net price information is focused on what first-year students pay—the introductory rate. There is, however, no guarantee that money a college offers a freshman will be there again the next year. Much like that artificially low introductory rate from the cable company, the bill that shows up 12, 24, or 36 months later could be thousands of dollars higher.”

Community College Liberal Arts. “To accompany the data, the American Academy also released a short essay by Martha J. Kanter, a distinguished visiting professor of higher education at New York University and former U.S. under secretary of education. In the essay, Kanter writes that the new data should highlight the roles of community colleges beyond job preparation, both for those who earn liberal arts associate degrees and for others.”

Backing Into Aristotle. “Advanced study requires time. That should be obvious, though it tends to drop out of the public debate. Aristotle knew it; that’s why he suggested that slaves, women, and manual laborers had no business engaging in politics. He assumed that they were too burdened with material necessity to raise their sights higher. As our income disparities continue to grow, and steadily more privation is visited upon the young, I’m worried that without realizing it, we’re backing into Aristotle’s vision.”

Waiting for Us to Notice Them. “And all of that, finally, has led me to reflect upon the extent to which we as faculty members should think more about the ‘pedagogy of presence’ in higher education—about the value that comes from humans’ being present with one another in teaching and learning. Let me say upfront: This is not a screed against outcomes assessment or online education. I embrace the general swing in higher education toward articulating and measuring learning outcomes in a more coherent way, and providing access to underserved populations via online courses. But in the past year or two, the more I read the literature on learning outcomes and online education, the more I feel that it misses something fundamental—something that can perhaps never be measured completely but that students view as essential.”

California Community Colleges to Offer Bachelor’s Degrees. “Until now, the state’s 112 community colleges have offered only two-year associate degrees. But a bill authored by Democratic State Sen. Marty Block and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year established a seven-year pilot program that allows a maximum of 15 college districts to offer a single four-year degree each in subjects not currently offered by the University of California or California State University systems. Emergency services, dental hygiene, automotive technology, respiratory care and mortuary science are some of the degrees the participating colleges plan to offer.”

Study Questions Whether Full-Time Enrollment Is Best for Everyone. “Most experts agree that first-time students are more likely to graduate on time from community colleges when they are enrolled full time. That has led some policy makers and nonprofit advocacy groups to encourage, and in some cases to require, students in certain programs to take 15 credit hours per semester. But a new study finds that students who return to college after extended breaks are more likely to graduate if they combine full- and part-time schedules. Specifically, it found that: Returning students often balance family, work, and other commitments that fluctuate over their college careers. Balancing part-time and full-time schedules helps them adjust to changes in their schedules and circumstances.”

Flexibility and Graduation. “Complete College America has called on states and universities to use a standard of at least 15 credits per semester as the definition of full time. They have also pushed for degree requirements to be limited to 120 credits for a bachelor’s and 60 credits for an associate degree, with a few exceptions. These reforms are intended to improve student retention and graduation rates. Jones points to several public universities that have encouraged course loads of at least 15 credits for full-time students, including the University of Akron, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Hawaii system. The three institutions have increased the number of incoming freshmen who take at least 15 credits per semester to at least half, up from less than 30 percent. In all three cases, however, not all incoming students must take the full load.”

‘Open source’ textbooks provide many benefits. “The Association of American Publishers opposes legislation that would ‘subsidize’ open-source texts to the exclusion of the textbooks and digital platforms that publishers produce, said David Anderson, the group’s executive director of higher education.But he sees room for both in the future, similar to the software industry, which is a mixture of commercial and open-source material. The digital textbook platforms offered by publishers can be customized by professors who may want to include some open-source material, he noted. ‘It’s not a question of either-or, it’s both-and,’ he said.”

Scholar Examining Diversity in Higher Education Through a Critical Lens. “Though he is tenured, he is not complacent, and has turned an investigative eye to problems of diversity at institutions of higher learning. ‘My core work is on the contributions of racial and sexual minorities to contemporary social theories. I’m also interested in figuring out — not just studying — what’s happening in the institutions where we’re producing this knowledge,’ Martínez says. Too often, Martínez says, institutions champion diversity as a value, but then fail to transform existing practices. One critical example of this is the way in which institutions inadvertently discourage junior faculty of color from taking risks and producing innovative work.”

Obama Presses for Free Community College and Tax Reform. “Mr. Obama also touted his tax-reform plan, announced over the weekend. That plan would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans and on financial firms to pay for free community college, while streamlining the higher-education tax credits and rolling back tax breaks for college-savings plans, among many other changes. Like past addresses, Tuesday’s speech focused on jobs and the economy, with higher education cast as a path to individual prosperity and national competitiveness.”

Middle-Class Economics for Tuition. “Perhaps recognizing the tough odds his community college plan faces in a Republican-controlled Congress that is skeptical of the estimated price tag of $60 billion over 10 years, Obama emphasized the proposal as a fundamental cultural shift rather than merely an item on his legislative agenda. ‘I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,’ he said.”

Obama’s Final Two Years. “Obama plans to use his executive power to make all existing federal direct student loan borrowers eligible for the federal government’s most generous loan repayment plan. He had, two years in a row, asked Congress to make such a change, but the plan didn’t go anywhere. The Education Department next month will kick off negotiations over how to carry out the proposed changes to the ‘Pay As You Earn’ repayment plan. The program caps borrowers’ monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income and forgives any remaining debt after 20 years. The White House is also calling on Congress to exempt from taxation the student loan balances that are forgiven under any of the federal government’s repayment plans.”

Below the Radar. “Community colleges are important elements in workforce development, and are rightly known for helping people find middle-skill jobs. But they also — and increasingly — provide the first two years of a higher degree for students who want to go on to jobs that require bachelor’s degrees or more. In the context of the crisis in student loan debt, this should not be dismissed lightly.”

To Discuss or Not Discuss. “A second trend among these three courses was the quality of language each course chose to use when discussing community-building forums. The language was a balance of being directive and engaging, and consistently used terminology that invited the entire class, regardless of size, to participate. This type of language seemingly promoted the type of norm-building that would contribute to fostering a productive community discussion forum.”

Impact Factors. “So, is it fair or reasonable to judge a junior faculty member by ‘impact factors’ based solely on citations? I offer impact factors, in addition to scholarship (cited or not), that make more sense for those who haven’t yet crossed the line into academic stardom but looking to prove their worth (say, for tenure): How much of an impact does this scholar bring to the classroom? Do students flock to that professor? Has that professor changed lives? Does that professor bring her or his own research into lectures? Does that professor bring new and innovative teaching to the classroom?”

The Future of Web Maps in Next Generation Textbooks. “That’s why ‘the object formerly known as textbook’ is beginning to resemble an online course more than an e-book. Leading textbook publishers like McGraw Hill Education (Networks), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Dashboards), and John Wiley & Sons (WileyPLUS Learning Space) are all launching their own proprietary learning management systems (LMSs). LMSs typically combine digital content with assessment tools like quizzing, instructor dashboards and grade management tools, course email, and other support for social learning.”

College Network Transforming Science. “Work is moving forward on a “smart science network” intended to transform how science is taught and learned. Arizona State University was expected to host about 200 faculty members and college presidents from across the country to learn more about the Inspark Science Network. Participants included representatives from community college partners, including Arizona’s Scottsdale Community College, Maricopa Community College, Phoenix College, and Florida’s Miami Dade College, among many others.”

In an Evolving Career Landscape, How Should Colleges Prepare Students? “Those discussions resulted in a report illustrating that the public wants colleges to expose students to new things and to encourage skills like critical thinking, not just train them for jobs. Panelists touched on an array of topics at Wednesday’s event, including a concern that students graduate without some of the broad skills—like problem solving, critical thinking, and applying knowledge to the real world—that employers desire and that the liberal arts are meant to instill. While some discussions pit the need to prepare students for specific jobs against the desire to educate them broadly, the panelists seemed to agree that colleges must do both. And they saw room for improvement across the board.”

Adult Learning: Building Paths to a Better Future. “But what makes adult learners unique–and hopefully attractive to education reform innovators–is that they are grown-ups. They have life experiences well beyond the confines of the academy. They are unencumbered by Common Core standards and SAT scores. Rather than participate in education as a necessary event, adult learners already act as consumers–presumably ready to act on a compelling learning proposition.”

Why Your Students Forgot Everything On Your PowerPoint Slides. “Cognitive load describes the capacity of our brain’s working memory (or WM) to hold and process new pieces of information. We’ve all got a limited amount of working memory, so when we have to handle information in more than one way, our load gets heavier, and progressively more challenging to manage. In a classroom, a student’s cognitive load is greatly affected by the “extraneous” nature of information–in other words, the manner by which information is presented to them (Sweller, 2010). Every teacher instinctively knows there are better–and worse–ways to present information. The reason for these, research shows, is that when you lighten the load, it’s easier for students’ brains to take information in and transform it into memory. Teaching with text-based PowerPoint slides while also reading them aloud, unfortunately, amounts to throwing too many rocks into the student container–and causing students to regress.”

Diverse Analysis: Why President Obama’s New Community College Plan Matters. “The strength of the President’s vision is that it casts a new paradigm that extends universal education beyond high school and invests heavily in community colleges to improve American economic competitiveness. Almost a century ago, the U.S. accomplished something similar by making high school widely available. That development opened up a new era of education and skills training that fueled 20th century American prosperity.”

2015 Survey of Chief Academic Officers. “Many provosts report that their institutions are not feeling the impact of the widely reported improved economy. Most do not feel their institutions are operating in an improved financial situation, and many anticipate further budget cuts and paying for new initiatives through reallocations, not new funds.”

Nudges and the Parable of Email. “Nudges are consciously-designed interventions intended to take advantage of people’s unconscious habits to push them in a particular direction. They’re less coercive than directives, in that the nudged are always free to disregard the hint and substitute their own preferences.  But since most people look for the ‘default’ setting on low-stakes decisions, an adjustment to the ‘default’ setting can produce significant results. Those who care deeply can always override the default, and some will.”

Thoughtful Experiment. “As our colleagues at HarvardX told us, the process of building a MOOC, perceptual changes by faculty developing and running them, and the unexpected use of open content by learners, is as, if not more, important than the end product itself (the online learning experience.)”

3 Priorities for EDUCAUSE’s Next CEO. “EDUCAUSE also needs to grow its thought leadership bench. How come no Kevin Careys or Jeff Selingos work for EDUCAUSE? EDUCAUSE should have been a go to place to lead the discussion on the Obama Administration’s higher education proposals and policies, as postsecondary innovation and change are really at the heart of what EDUCAUSE is about.”

Three evolving thoughts about flipped learning. “I attended a talk by Jeremy Strayer last year, and he said something that stuck with me: that the purpose of pre-class work in the flipped classroom is to ‘launch’ the in-class activity. In flipped learning we certainly want students to pick up fluency with basic content and learning objectives prior to class. But I think Jeremy’s point is that content delivery shouldn’t be the primary purpose of pre-class work. Rather, it should be to prime the student intellectually to engage in whatever high-level tasks we have devised for the in-class meeting. This point was echoed in this study from Stanford which suggests that while the flipped learning model in itself is an improvement over a standard lecture-oriented model, there are even stronger learning gains among student when their pre-class work consists of open-ended explorations of concepts that precede a more text-based study of those concepts. The Stanford study suggests that ‘flipping the flipped classroom’ in this way is the best approach.

The Missing Analytics from iTunes U Courses. “What the iTunes U Course app is missing (besides only being available for iOS devices), is any analytics or reporting capabilities. This is a problem, as there is no idea for instructors to know how often articles or videos are viewed. It is impossible to understand how effective the learning objects and videos are for student learning, as there is no way to tell if they are being watched. Today’s online, blended, and flipped class programs are starting to track if students are utilizing course media. This is less for individual student assessment, and more to understand the aggregate patterns in order to improve the course materials and the learning experience.”

Spotlight on Innovation: Making the Library Central to Adult Learner Support at The College of New Rochelle. “At The College of New Rochelle, the $3.9 million FITW grant will fund MURAL (Mentoring, Undergraduate Research, and Augmented Libraries), which is focused on moving full-time adult learners in the College’s School of New Resources through college in four years or less with a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Liberal Arts. The initiative will create a network of support through an enhanced research-rich core course each semester, enhanced mentoring, and the creation of a library learning commons.”

Intellectual Connections. “AAC&U describes integrative learning as ‘synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized skills,’ demonstrated through the application of ‘knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems.’ It’s the kind of cross-disciplinary thinking or connection-making ability that the liberal arts are supposed to ingrain in students to prepare them for a career and the complexities of life – not just a first job. Put another way, it’s the connective tissue between disciplines. But, administrators said in a session called ‘Helping Students Connect: Integrative Liberal Learning and the Future of Liberal Arts Colleges,’ faculty members don’t always know what integrative learning is or how to impart it to their students.”

The Information Literacy Standards/Framework Debate. “For many months, a task force has been drafting and circulating a new document to replace the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education, which were adopted in 2000 and, like all ACRL standards, had come up for review. … Any librarian who has been involved in instruction wrestles constantly with the bridging the gap between simplicity and complexity. If we focus too much on how to get stuff done, we run the risk of encouraging a linear process, a smash-and-grab collection of sources that will subsequently be mashed into a paper full of patchwriting. If we focus too much on concepts, we run the risk of losing students who are understandably concerned about getting stuff done. The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle, where students aren’t defeated by practical tasks but where they see the bigger picture.”

Is Standardized Testing a Pediatric Disease? “In my last post, I wrote about the tension between learning, with the emphasis on the needs and progress of individual human learners, and education, which is the system by which we try to guarantee learning to all but which we often subvert in our well-meaning but misguided attempts to measure whether we are delivering that learning. I spent a lot of time in that post exploring research by Gallup regarding the workplace performance of adults, various dimensions of personal wellbeing, and the links of both to each other and to college experiences. One of Gallup’s findings were that workers who are disengaged with their work are less healthy. They are more likely to get clinically depressed, more likely to get heart conditions, and more likely to die young. I then made a connection between disengaged adults and disengaged students. What I left implicit was that if being disengaged as an adult is bad for one’s health, it stands to reason that being disengaged as a child is also bad for one’s health. We could be literally making our children sick with schooling.”

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