ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

The Rise of Antisocial Deconstructivism. “In the course of the conversation, we spontaneously came up with a term that we both like and that seemed to resonate with the audience: antisocial deconstructivism. It’s the approach of breaking learning down into teeny, tiny bits, tied to fine-grained competencies and micro-assessments, that students learn on their own by following a prescription that is created for them, possibly with the help of a robot. … There are times when antisocial deconstructivism is an appropriate pedagogical technique. … Any situation in which you are working fairly low on Bloom’s Taxonomy might be OK for it as an approach. Procedural knowledge that either doesn’t require higher order problem solving skills or where problem solving skills are best built incrementally by slowing increasing problem complexity is a particularly appropriate type of candidate for antisocial deconstructivism. But we do mock it when it is presented not as a pedagogical technique but as a pedagogical ideology. It’s the idea that anything worth learning can be learned best, most cheaply, and ‘at scale’ this way.”

Vandy Takes on Federal Regs, Redux. “The new study is likely to again be controversial in higher education policy circles. Much of the programmatic accreditation listed in the report is not required of colleges seeking to access federal funds, for example. And it is not clear whether the group of institutions reviewed by the study, although certainly wide-ranging, are a representative enough sample of American higher education from which accurate national figures can be produced. The study includes, for instance, only one community college and one for-profit institution.”

Online Ed for the Underserved. “While many proponents of online learning see the mode of delivery as an opportunity to increase access to and lower the cost of higher education for underserved students, some research suggests those same students are less likely to succeed online than their peers.”

But wait – there’s more! “Interesting that strong oral communication skills trump strong technical and/or quantitative skills, and that two of the five top skills would be considered ‘soft skills,’ since many business schools spend the majority of their core curriculum teaching the ‘hard’ skills. Proven ability to perform, which tops the list of what recruiters consider important, is likely to include a large dose of soft skills, too.”

Security and The Mission. “The wave of violence on campuses over the last few years raises several sets of fears. The obvious one is of physical danger. All I’ll say to that is that every college I know of is reviewing its protocols and resources. There’s no such thing as absolute safety, but nobody wants to get the news that something awful could have been minimized if they had been more conscientious. The more subtle fears are about losing that culture of openness. That culture is based on institutional practices, but also on the ways that individual people interact. The mission encourages employees to treat every student as an opportunity, not a threat. To the extent that a culture of fear replaces a culture of openness, the mission itself is at risk. And distrust can become self-fulfilling.”

Trying to Make Sense of dLRN 2015. “The rationale for research being at the core of our digital learning work is the idea that generating evidence for new digital learning practices will both inform and motivate change. Research, in this construction, is a tool for advocacy – and a method to gain status (and ultimately power).”

Space: (Still) The Final Frontier. “Even in the age of the Internet, an effective university requires academic community. What is academic community? It includes a sense of generally shared academic values along with a commitment to a university, to colleagues, and to students. It is important to have an involvement in academic affairs through shared governance and a say about curriculum and teaching decisions. A neglected requirement of community is space—an actual physical space —where teaching staff and students and meet to work, meet, and communicate. The argument here is that without a common and appropriate space, academic communities cannot flourish.”

Why Is Blackboard Laying Off Staff Despite Improved Market Share Position? “Blackboard is caught between the need to invest and complete a product re-architecture that is highly complex and aggressive, and the financial requirements of highly-leveraged private equity ownership. The need to invest and the need to cut costs. While some people are looking at the potential sale as a new risk to evaluate, it is probably better to view the current financial situation Blackboard finds itself in as the result of the risk picked up by their previous sale in 2011 to private equity ownership.”

MOOCs Are Still Rising, at Least in Numbers. “Mr. Shah has his own theory for why the big MOOC providers are so successful: the growth of credentials in online education.”

What’s the First Lady’s New Public-Awareness Campaign All About? And Could It Work? “I am optimistic that this could be a valuable resource, and, as important, a sense of affirmation and social-emotional support for students to recognize that they’re really not alone. There’s a lot of people who believe in them, who want them to succeed, and who see their potential. My hope is that that kind of messaging may really turn out to be as important as the more informational value of telling people about Fafsas and college applications.”

High-School Diploma Options Multiply, but May Not Set Up Students for College Success. “As states try to increase their high-school graduation rates and tailor programs to different goals, the number of diploma options has become “incredibly complex,” the report notes. It’s not always clear to students and their parents which ones are likely to set them up for success, said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve. … Evidence of just how wide the gap is between high-school graduation and college readiness has some educators worried that some students are being set up for failure. The college-readiness gap is also putting an unnecessary burden on two-year colleges, says a statement from the community-college groups about their effort to raise graduation standards.”

What we need from the next secretary of education: An overhaul of financial aid, to start. “First, I believe there’s a crucial need to take a more holistic view of higher education’s role in broadening the perspective on the value of education. If America is to maintain its global leadership position, we have to educate a new generation who can solve problems creatively, think critically and communicate effectively, rather than just educating students for the sole purpose of job placement.”

Yes, Colleges Do Teach Critical-Thinking Skills, Study Finds. “Educators, policy makers, and employers all want colleges to teach students critical-thinking skills, but are colleges succeeding in doing so? To answer that question, the study’s authors analyzed 71 research reports published over the past 48 years. Their conclusion: Yes, despite arguments to the contrary, students’ critical-thinking skills do improve in college. The difference is comparable to a student whose critical-thinking skills start at the 50th percentile and, after four years in college, move up to the 72nd.”

When Shrinkage Is Good. “Other colleges were growing as Wagner was shrinking. So Wagner’s administrators had to make a decision: significantly up student aid, in many cases beyond what students might need, or lose students. The college ended up taking a conservative approach, putting it squarely among the minority of its private peers, many of which place growing enrollment among their most important goals for survival and financial health. We made ‘the decision to protect quality rather than chase volume,’ which means Wagner was ready to ‘get smaller if we had to,’ says Richard Guarasci, Wagner’s president of more than 13 years.”

New Lender for a New Market. “The new private lender is worth watching, said Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and a former official at the U.S. Education Department. He said how the company determines the value of a boot camp for an individual student, its approach and whether it works, could ‘provide lessons for current discussions about quality oversight and risk sharing in federal financial aid programs.’ However, Shireman said, students should be cautious about taking out private loans for job training.”

Checking Our Library Privilege. “As Jason Baird Jackson pointed out back in 2012, scholars with access to the record of research are the academic one percent. The first challenge is to recognize our privilege. The second is to examine what we do in our everyday lives that makes things unequal and work on fixing it. There’s good news on that front. A number of the articles that I found in my search had versions available for anyone to read thanks to authors taking the trouble to self-archive them. And there are more and more creative ways to create a new infrastructure for funding the sharing of research more equitably than by depending on institutional affiliation. Open access publishing is gaining ground, and the humanities and social sciences are finally catching up to the sciences on developing new models.”

What Ails the Academy? “Away from the elite, selective universities and colleges that host a single-digit percent of American higher-education seekers, the scene changes utterly: soaring public tuitions and student debt; abysmal rates of degree completion; queues for introductory classes and required courses, often taught by migratory adjuncts; fraught battles pitting liberal learning and education for citizenship against pragmatic focus on vocational training; a stagnant or falling rate of attainment among the population as a whole. The distressing features of this much larger part of the higher-education industry have spawned a critical, even dire, literature that merits attention for its own sake—and because the issues echo in the elite stratum, too.”

What Education Technology Could Look Like Over the Next Five Years. “Authentic Learning: As with any changing industry, there are many problems standing in the way of effective technology implementation. Some problems are already being solved in creative ways by educators setting an example of the way forward, while others are more difficult and haven’t yet been solved. One challenge that persists in mainstream education is how to create truly authentic learning opportunities within the bureaucracy of schools. As with other education buzzwords, many schools believe they are providing authentic learning, but they don’t offer the apprenticeships, vocational training and portfolio-based assessments that often characterize work that carries larger life lessons.”

Designing hope: Some ramblings and personal reflections on ICDE2015. “Education, as I understand it, is about creating spaces for learners to learn to read the world, to recognise the meta-narratives as well as the epistemological and ontological alliances, as well as develop the capabilities and agencies to disrupt these meta-narratives and create new localised narratives in service of hope, equality and justice. Various keynotes and panelists raised the issue that we seriously and urgently needed to rethink our understandings of ‘open’, ‘access’, ‘knowledge production’ (see the thought-provoking keynote by Laura Czerniewicz) and ‘hope.’”

Accreditation’s Real Cost (and Value). “In addition, suggesting, as this report does, that the cost of accreditation includes significant faculty costs ignores the reality that accreditation activities are part of regular faculty service and committee work and contribute to the overall improvement of the institution. Unlike the many regulatory requirements that institutions have to deal with that are really only reporting, the process of peer review creates significant benefit to institutions to help them study themselves with expert colleagues, plan for the future, and discover and address their blind spots.”

The ”O” word. “Put operating subsidies on a substantial and predictable upward trend, and colleges can enforce academic standards without fearing bankruptcy. They can continue to take all comers and provide excellent education. Raise them enough, and we could even make a dent in the trend towards increasing adjunct percentages. Let them continue to stagnate or fall, and the only institutions that serve everybody will flounder. Privates can move to selectivity and/or philanthropy without violating their missions. Community colleges can’t; they need operating aid. That’s what will make the difference between downsizing-as-exclusivity and downsizing-as-death-spiral.”

4 Reasons Why EQUIP Is A Big Deal. “The focus of the EQUIP program on innovative approaches to quality assurance is a key part of the program. Each partnership between colleges and educational providers will be required to include a “quality assurance entity” that will do an outcomes-focused review of the educational quality. This is important, because the Department is signaling its interest in shifting the conversation about quality from one where inputs are most important (like the current accreditation system) to one where student outcomes are valued.”

Transforming a Course … “In terms of education, a state of flow is most likely to be achieved through activities that involve a meaningful goal and a mindful challenge, achieved through in-depth inquiry and resulting in an authentic product. It would be a mistake, however, to equate immersive learning experiences with any form of active learning. Both, to be sure, involve learning by doing, and both seek to move beyond a conception of learning as knowledge transfer. But many active learning activities are artificial. A skill-building exercise or a practice set is not an immersive learning experience. In truly immersive experiences, control lies with the learner and motivation comes from within, not without.  Exploration, creative intensity, and a genuine sense of accomplishment lie at the heart of truly immersive learning experiences.”

MacArthur Spins Off Digital Media & Learning Work with $25 Million Seed Investment. “MacArthur today announced the launch of Collective Shift, a new nonprofit whose mission is to redesign social systems for the connected age. With $25 million in seed funding, Collective Shift’s first project is LRNG, which is creating a 21st century ecosystem of learning that combines in-school, out-of-school, work-based, and online learning opportunities that are visible and accessible to all.”

Up next for textbooks? The bionic book. “The tool, called BBookX, can be used to create a variety of media, ranging from study guides to textbooks. To begin, users fill in a digital table of contents — assigning each chapter a topic with text or as many related keywords or key phrases as they’d like. Using matching algorithms, BBookX then returns text, and users can keep the chapters as they are or mix with content of their own.”

The end of ‘just Google it’: Why students need to be digitally literate. “In order to prepare students for life beyond the classroom, it’s essential to engage them in discussions of authority, bias, reliability and validity so that they can approach any topic in any subject in a way that is challenging and academically critical. This can be achieved through scaffolding research tasks, providing thinking guides to help students approach texts, building in transferable skills such as note taking and referencing sources. By doing this students are best placed for accessing a range of information across the curriculum, in future and in life outside of education. In many ways, high-quality digital skills are a life skill for a range of situations beyond the classroom.”

The Lecture – A Lecture in Three Parts. “But the class quickly took on a traditional tone and dynamic. We annotated, we discussed, but we always eventually ended up back in the familiar role of students and lecturer. Their brows furrowed and their eyes glazed over. They dutifully read and participated but something had dissipated from the space. They weren’t having fun anymore. And I always have to remind myself that what think is fun and interesting and engaging is much, much different than what they do. There was no ‘we’ in the classroom anymore. There was just me and them.”

3 Advantages of Giving a PowerPoint-Free Talk. “Being free from slides enabled me to stand with 1 table, make some big points, and then invite (really insist on) discussion. When someone in the audience asked a question I would walk to them, standing next to them while they talked. I was able to get through all that I wanted say in the presentation, but the format gave more air time to the group. Leading a discussion in this manner, particularly with a big group, requires both a clear idea of what you want to achieve in the discussion – and the willingness to manage the conversation. I’m not sure how well this would scale past about 50 people – or in a room that is not flat.”

Here’s what you should know about those 99% job placement rates at ‘coding bootcamps’—some of which boast $100,000 exit salaries. “Now, there is no denying that these are impressive numbers, but what exactly do they mean? ‘Full-time job,’ ‘placement rate in field of study,’ and ‘tech jobs,’ are not precisely the same thing. And it’s hard to compare them to each other. ‘Unlike many other marketing claims, no government agency regulates coding bootcamp placement rates,’ Sing explains, though this could change as the government deepens its involvement in the programs.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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