ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Student-Centered Educational Software. “It’s not hard to see the connection between Gallup-Purdue’s findings and Tinto’s (or with common sense and intuition, for that matter). Solid empirical evidence suggests that the best way to affect medium- and long-term outcomes for students is to give them reason to feel that they are part of an academic community of people who are committed to helping them succeed at learning things that actually matter. There are lots of ways that educational software could facilitate this, in traditional classrooms and even in scaled-up approaches (like MOOCs) that emphasize access. But it’s not the path that much of ed tech is going down at the moment.”

Rethinking the Discourses of Higher Education Innovation. “But many of the points that the critics make are certainly overblown.  As Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman have persuasively shown, higher education’s financial challenges are rooted not in wasteful spending on prestige competition, luxury amenities, or bloated staffing, but in factors not susceptible to easy fixes, such as the costs of expert faculty, advanced technology, financial aid, and expanded student support services. Even as institutions have sought to trim administrative expenses, improve financial management, and make procurement more efficient, costs inexorably rise.  This is due, largely to the increasing costs of plant maintenance and operations, health and retirement benefits, technology, and especially the non-faculty professionals who provide student services (including disabilities services, psychological services, career services, and advising) and who monitor compliance with various governmental mandates.”

I Read ‘Weapons of Math Destruction’ Because of Barbara Fister’s Review. “Weapons of Math Destruction is an important antidote to our current higher ed infatuation with big data. The chapters on how an over reliance on data and black box algorithms in the public K-12 world has caused ridiculous amounts of stress for qualified and dedicated educators should give us all pause in applying similar techniques to our higher ed world.”

About That Cengage OER Survey. “According to Costantini, the reason Cengage did this study is that in their view OER is another type of content, and there are high-level conversations at schools about adoption. Costantini described Cengage as making a move for a while to not be as proprietary, with the MindTap platform as an example where multiple content types – proprietary and OER – can be combined or used individually. Cengage views themselves as excellent curators, and OER content fits into this view. They want to accelerate this shift, and internally they need to better understand the dynamics of OER usage.”

Why Learning People Wince At Talk Of “Classroom Flipping.” “My guess is that the idea of flipping has been hopelessly coopted. Coopted by those who think that there is an educational magic bullet to improved postsecondary productivity.  (There isn’t). Coopted by those inclined to believe that improving learning requires only simple shifts in technique or practice. (It doesn’t). Changing things up so that the course content is delivered through a lecture by video, a video that students watch before coming to class, does nothing in and of itself to improve learning. The real challenge is how to use class time to enable active and experiential learning. The worst courses on the planet are those that have been poorly flipped.”

Prestige Isn’t Going to Save Us. “Unfortunately, the only way to survive in a culture that continues to turn away from education as a public good is to ‘compete’ and the only way we know how to compete is for ‘prestige.’ But what is the ‘cost’ on public institutions of chasing prestige? For sure, there is a dollar cost. Clemson blanketed the country with glossy PR packages while trying to boost its reputation among its peers. (Even as it slagged those peers in the U.S. News survey.) There has also been a cost in terms of fostering a culture where, rather than seeing our public institutions as part of a cooperating ecosystem, they are in competition with one another. Only the winners deserve support, but why are we choosing winners in a system where we’re trying to make sure there’s opportunities for all?”

Empowerment or Abandonment. “The goal of producing graduates who are capable of teaching themselves still seems right to me. Getting them there without feeling too abandoned is the hard part. And a big ‘thank you’ to the students who reminded me of the value of giving at least some answers.”

After gaining legitimacy, can online higher education replace traditional college? “And all that happened in just the past five years. Thousands of students who would never have considered taking an online course from the University of Phoenix or another for-profit institution began taking one for the first time from top-tier universities. Those selective universities did what millions of dollars in advertisements from online providers never achieved: they legitimized virtual education.”

How Humanities Can Help Fix the World. “ Highly quantified disciplines like those cannot teach about things like racial or religious prejudice. To learn what anti-Semitism and racism are, students must turn to history and sociology courses. To learn why they are evil and how to avoid them, they must turn to the humanities. In particular, it is the humanities that teach us how not to be racists, by showing us how to open ourselves up to what is different.”

Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong? “My job is not to save my students from cultural impoverishment. It is to teach them how to express themselves effectively in writing. The development of cogent, clear prose is at the heart of freshman composition. For too long, I have deluded myself into thinking that my job in a composition course was to introduce students to a rich academic topic, make them read difficult texts, make up for years of barely-more-than-functional literacy and book aversion, teach them to be critical thinkers, and help them understand the oppressive structures of late capitalism — all while helping them write focused arguments, revise, polish paragraphs, and edit sentences. “

Breaking the Iron Triangle. “The great challenge facing public higher education is to break through the iron triangle: Increasing affordability, quality, and student success all at once. Achieving that goal will require our institutions to solve three wicked problems — an infrastructure problem, a curriculum problem, and a mentoring problem – in ways that are financially sustainable. The least appreciated, but debatably the most important, challenge is to create the technological and service infrastructure capable of supporting the kinds of learning that need to take place in the 21st century: An education that is more personalized, immersive, skills-oriented, well-supported, and data-driven than that which is standard today. It is also an education acquired through multiple providers – including industry, the military, and  alternative educational suppliers — across the lifespan.”

Previewing the Hallway Conversations at Learning With MOOCs III. “What will we be talking about beyond MOOCs? 1 – Enhancing Residential Teaching and Learning: Everybody that I know in the MOOC producer community joined this movement with the goal of enhancing and evolving face-to-face teaching and learning. None of us believed the hype of 3 years ago that MOOCs were somehow a replacement for what we do on our campuses.  Rather, all of us believe that we can use MOOCs to learn about learning. We all believe that what is vital and valuable about a ‘traditional’ education is that it does not scale.”

Useful In-House Professional Development. “I have to confess to deeply conflicted attitudes about in-house professional development programs. In theory, I like the idea a lot. Everyone working at the same place means you can tailor the content to the realities of that place. There’s already a comfort level among the group, since people already know each other.  And you don’t have to deal with flying. … The ability to learn something of professional value without having to deal with airlines is not to be sneezed at. But empirically, in-house professional development can be terribly uneven.”

New Report: Nearly 25% of College Students Are Hungry. “In addition, food-insecure students had more trouble with schoolwork. Over half (55 percent) reported that hunger problems caused them to not buy a required book; 53 percent reported missing a class; 25 percent reported dropping a class.”

Looking for a New Home. “ACCSC is the second-largest national accreditor, having overseen the disbursement of $3 billion in federal aid last year to colleges that collectively enroll 232,416 degree-seeking students. Like ACICS, most of the colleges it oversees — 343 of 390 institutions — are for-profit, according to accreditor ‘dashboards’ the department recently rolled out. However, the commission in August got positive marks from the federal panel that oversees accreditors, which recommended renewing ACCSC’s recognition for the maximum allowed time frame of five years.”

Online Education Is Now a Global Market. “First, I completely agree with you that MOOCs and the online-learning world in general have now converged effectively. We definitely see ourselves as a partner to our universities and embracing a whole range of digital opportunities and not just a MOOC platform for them. In terms of that global aspect of competition, I think that many of the top institutions can still do perfectly well just focusing on their core business, and that’s going to sustain them for a long time.”

Curricula Provider Great Minds Suing FedEx Over OER. “The curricula provider Great Minds is suing FedEx in New York City federal court, arguing that the delivery, printing and photocopying company should compensate the education organization for the money FedEx makes from requests from schools to copy materials that Great Minds created and makes available for free, on an open license.

Georgetown University Professor’s Ferguson Syllabus Growing Nationwide. “In a matter of days, what emerged was a no-cost, crowdsourced catalog that Chatelain created and curated, titled ‘Ferguson Syllabus.’ It focused on race, African-American history, civil rights and policing, based on suggestions not only from Chatelain but from people representing a spectrum of academic disciplines, geographic regions and educational settings. The catalog continues to be supplemented by Chatelain’s ongoing #FergusonSyllabus campaign, a platform where members of the general public offer and obtain additional tips for classrooms of all age groups.”

Data Breaches, Betrayals, and Broken Promises. “One of the proposed solutions for the fecklessness of having massive amounts of personal data collected in places that cannot be kept secure without a great deal of trouble is to make companies that collect this data ‘information fiduciaries.’”

Institutional Repositories: Response to comments. “As I pointed out in my introduction, there is today no consensus on the role and purpose of the IR. Some see it as a platform for green OA, some view it as a journal publication platform, some as a metadata repository, some as a digital archive, some as a research data repository (I could go on). It is worth noting here a comment posted on my blog by David Lowe. The reason why the IR will persist, he said, ‘is not related to OA publishing as such, but instead to ETDs.’ Presumably this means that Lowe expects the primary role of the IR to become that of facilitating ETD workflows.”

Scaling Learning in an Exponential World. “Expand learning well beyond knowledge management platforms. Knowledge management platforms have largely been organized around sharing existing knowledge. While this may be marginally helpful, the key imperative in a rapidly changing environment is to find ways to develop new knowledge, rather than merely sharing existing knowledge. Tacit knowledge is far more valuable than explicit knowledge.”

“But What About”s. “Administration is a never-ending exercise in joining programs already in progress, and the right blend of BWA’s can be valuable in minimizing the damage that comes from not knowing everything. But there comes a point where you just have to accept that you’ll never know enough, and have to act anyway. The BWA’s will change, but they’ll never go away. With a long-running show, there’s no such thing as a clean start.  But there is such a thing as stagnation.”

University bureaucracies grew 15 percent during the recession, even as budgets were cut and tuition increased. “The number of people employed by public university and college central system offices like this one — which critics complain often duplicate work already being done on the campuses they oversee, with scores of bureaucrats who have no direct role in teaching or research — has kept creeping up, even since the start of the economic downturn and in spite of steep budget cuts, flat enrollment and heightened scrutiny of administrative bloat.”

Do We Overthink Learning? “Specifically, I found myself wondering if we are overthinking learning? Could it be possible that what people are really interested in is the next big thing and not necessarily the fundamental component of learning: relaying (and absorbing) new information? Are we getting caught up in the theories of learning rather than the practical effectiveness of the learning content we deliver? At the end of the day are we asking the one question that matters most: Can students understand and apply the lesson takeaways?”

The Punch You Don’t Throw. “Debates come in different flavors and formats. We usually went with two-on-two or three-on-three “policy” debates. The “affirmative” would argue in favor of the proposition, which was for some sort of legal or political change. The “negative” would argue against it. The burden of proof was on the affirmative. The beauty of the format is that it requires several skills: public speaking, careful listening, and good research all paid off. Over time, the best ones learned that public speaking involves a particular kind of poise. Students frequently came in loaded for bear, only to find quickly that their enthusiasm could actually get in the way. If they couldn’t control themselves, they’d say something they regretted, or they’d lose a potentially valid point in a hail of undisciplined words.”

Getting Better at Teaching Students Writing: Work With What They Know. “ think the we face a challenge because of a K-12 education system where the push towards standardization and the concomitant high stakes testing exposes students to a very narrow conception of writing largely divorced from a comprehensive rhetorical situation. In college, when the focus is on ‘academic’ writing students see the work as an extension of those K-12 processes, and students learn techniques to pass assessments, rather than engaging with authentic, meaningful, writing-related problems. The result is many students graduating without a deep, flexible knowledge of how writing works across different contexts, and when engaging different audiences.”

The Commoditization of Deep Learning. “This isn’t unique to Amazon. The more Amazon sells, the better it gets at selling. The more searches Google provides, the better searches it can provide. The more movies Netflix recommends, the better recommendations it can make. So effectively by collecting data, you’re raising the barrier to entry for competition. This is what makes data super duper valuable.”

The Web Stream Was Designed for Information Underload. “If you look at a number of other prominent streams, from early link blogging to the first Facebook feeds, you see this pattern repeat itself. Streams are born not because people are overloaded with good choices of things to read but because people perceive a paucity of information. Without the stream there is nothing to read. Over time, that information grows, and the stream becomes less about discovery and more about curation, whether that curation is human or algorithmic.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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