ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

Startup Stock Photos

Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Meritocracy in Obama’s Gilded Age. “But the problem with Obama’s story is not only that it blinds us to the structural inequality generated by higher education. The story also makes it difficult to appreciate what’s worth defending about even our deeply flawed university system.”

How “Working From Home” Became “Just Working.” “The shift away from the office being the default place where work happens has its plusses and minuses. On the minus side, we have totally demolished the zone between work and home. We are always working. Work happens all the time. We are in-touch and in-communication from when we first wake up in the morning, to when we pass out at night. There are many positives for discarding the office – or the campus – as the expected and default place of work. The rise of open offices and shared working space makes sustained, deep, and quiet work difficult. Working from home is often the most productive way to actually get some work done.”

Debates. “More importantly, they convey that students have a right to participate, and to be taken seriously. Students don’t often get that message. Between time demands, vocational worries, and streamlined curricula, many students absorb the message that politics is for other people. Politicians vote accordingly. Community colleges are admirably, even naively, democratic in their mission. But they often stop there, shying away from anything that smacks of controversy. I understand why colleges can’t (and shouldn’t) endorse candidates or parties. But endorsing the political process strikes me as entirely fair. Students at elite places routinely have debate watching parties. Why can’t ours?”

The Roots of Those Not Good Enough C’s. “The University of Arizona findings strike me as a responsible use of ’big data’ in investigating issues in education. For me, quantitative data such as this can be very useful to uncover questions that need answering. But finding the answers to the questions gets a little more difficult. In the case of non open admission institutions, I don’t believe the issues don’t have much to do with academics. … But since the graduation issues aren’t an academic problem, more writing instruction isn’t going to solve these issues for many of the students. To solve this problem, to understand what is really going on will take more than mining ‘big data.’ It will necessitate engagement. Someone needs to ask those struggling students: What’s going on?”

From Retention to Persistence. “For years, our prevailing view of student retention has been shaped by theories that view student retention through the lens of institutional action and ask what institutions can do to retain their students. Students, however, do not seek to be retained. They seek to persist. The two perspectives, although necessarily related, are not the same. Their interests are different. … Students’ perceptions of the value of their studies also influence their motivation to persist. Although what constitutes value is subject to much debate, the underlying issue is clear: students need to perceive the material to be learned is of sufficient quality and relevance to warrant their time and effort. Only then will they be motivated to engage that material in ways that promote learning and, in turn, persistence. Curriculum that is seen as irrelevant or of low quality will often yield the opposite result.”

A Far Cry from School History: Massive Online Open Course as a Generative Source for Historical Research. “Learner participation in MOOCs is a two way process whereby learners are both consumers and producers of knowledge (Wheeler & Gerver, 2015). In these connectivist environments, learners are not only being encouraged to interact with one another, but are also given the facility to share and create content (Wang, Chen, & Anderson, 2014). This research explores how learners in a history MOOC are creating content in the MOOC space by means of personal narratives.”

Ed Tech as discipline. “So how might ed tech being a discipline in this respect help? Firstly, it allows us to bring in a range of perspectives. One of the criticisms of ed tech is that people come in from one discipline and are unaware of fundamental work in a related one. So the Ed Tech discipline might well have components from psychology, sociology, education, computer science, statistics, etc. This would help establish a canonical body of texts that you could assume most people in ed tech are familiar with. Secondly, another criticism of ed tech is that it lacks rigour. Claims are often based on anecdote, small trials, or just hopes about the power of technology. As well as establishing a set of common content, Ed Tech can establish good principles and process in terms of evaluating evidence.”

Reverse Engineering the Student Experience. “Process mapping, as the name suggests, entails mapping out an institutional process from start to finish. The goal is to understand processes from the perspective of the person encountering a product or service — in the case of higher education, students. It requires institutional leaders to ask, ‘How does a student engage with our college or university when trying to do X?’ The exercise is inherently empathetic — it demands that administrators and faculty members put themselves in students’ shoes. And it guarantees, at the very least, greater self-awareness and knowledge of pain points and hurdles that students experience and that need to be removed. Underlying this approach is a somewhat controversial premise: colleges and universities were not, historically, designed around the needs of students.”

Who Will Guard the Guardians? Accountability in the New Age of Higher Ed Accreditation. “The Department of Education’s (ED) National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) is piloting a set of dashboards designed to make sense of higher education accreditation. Released in June, NACIQI’s pilot is part of ED’s broader attempt to cast a spotlight on both accreditors and the schools within their accreditation portfolios. While it’s too early to gauge the long-term impact of these dashboards, it is now easier to watch the proverbial watchdogs, and evaluate how well accreditors monitor and improve underperforming schools.”

Office Hours: Western Governors’ Scott Pulsipher talks affordability and access. “Being a Harvard graduate, I understand and saw the Socratic model, and we benefited from the diversity of the student body and the faculty because it added a lot of the elements of the learning model. But our model at WGU is distinctly different, so we focus on having the best and highest quality content, and the resources that best deliver that content to the students. But it doesn’t depend upon the diversity of faculty. We think about the experiences, the integration of audio and video, gamification and mechanisms that measure learning and understanding.”

The Questions We Should Be Asking Our Students. “What we most need from students are the descriptive details, not evaluative assessments. When do you study? For how long? How do you study? What methods do you use? How do you decide that you’ve studied something enough? What do you do when you’re studying and discover that you don’t understand something? What study strategies work best with the content in this course? What instructional methods encourage you to study? Are your study efforts in this course being supported? If yes, how? If no, why not? What study strategies do you need to develop? Answers to those kinds of questions generate information that teachers can do something about.”

Scaling Up High-Impact Instruction. “With support from the Endeavor Foundation, which supports the liberal arts, Reacting is accepting proposals for grants to help institutions further embed Reacting and its fundamentally active learning strategies into curricula on a broader scale. The grant guidelines are purposefully broad, but possible applications include those across departments, colleges and general-education curricula. Grants go to teams, not individual professors.”

Why All Humanists Should Go to Prison. “At the prison, however, technology-driven pedagogy wasn’t an option. I had to eliminate the technologies I already relied on, rather than introduce new ones. I began to question why I had used specific tools in the first place. Had I depended on lecture slides to help my students follow along? Or were they there to keep me on point? Did videos add to the course content or simply fill up discussion time? If they did augment the material, were there other ways to arrive at the same place — means that refrained from directing everyone’s attention to a screen rather than to one another? Stripped of the gadgets that adorn the 21st-century lecture hall, I zeroed in on writing compelling talks and provoking lively debates. I thought more about what I put in and left out of lectures — about what information my students, deprived of internet access or a research library, needed to contextualize a text, an argument, or an assignment.”

Educational Software Patents: A Call to Vendors. “… the fact that educational software patents exist means that there is strong motivation for companies to file for patents that they can use in defensive counter-suits, even if they have no plans to ever use them offensively. D2L didn’t have any patents at the time of the lawsuit, but I would be shocked if they didn’t have any today for exactly this reason. The right thing for vendors to do here is to create what’s known as a patent pool. Any patent owner who contributes to the pool pledges to only use that patent for defensive counter-suits. In return, the owner also gets to use any other patents in the pool for defensive purposes.

Boise State’s Innovation Guru Pushes a Start-Up Approach as a Model for Change. “Among other projects, the college has forged partnerships with a coding boot camp called Revature, the Harvard Business School, and the trendy product-design firm IDEO to provide credit-bearing courses to its students; it has created a noncredit curriculum for employees of the Albertsons grocery-store chain, which has a major corporate presence in Boise; and it helped develop a set of two- and three-credit electives on topics like ‘basics of coding’ and ‘basics of project managing’ to help students acquire skills that can help them land jobs. Colleges must do more to take responsibility for what happens to students when they graduate, says Mr. Jones, ‘or we’ll be extremely vulnerable.’”

Remedial Education: The Cost of Catching Up. “Across the country, millions of students enroll in college every year only to learn that they need to take classes that will not count toward their degrees because they cover material that they should have learned in high school. According to the authors’ analysis for this report, these remedial courses cost students and their families serious money—about $1.3 billion across the 50 states and the District of Columbia every year. What is more, students who take these classes are less likely to graduate. Simply put, remedial education—or developmental education as it is also known—is a systemic black hole from which students are unlikely to emerge.”

Studies Show Digital Course Materials Improve Students’ Performance. “Digital learning materials can offer benefits over their print counterparts, including a typically lower price, unique features like adaptive quizzes, practice activities, animations, simulations, calendar functions and gradebooks, and the ability for professors to customize lectures based on class progress and quickly update materials with new information. Perhaps the most beneficial feature of digital learning materials is their adaptability, as they are personalized to each student and can provide more immediate feedback.”

A Devil’s Dictionary of Educational Technology, Part 2. “Active learning , n. 1.The opposite of obedience lessons. 2. The strange idea that learning and learners should not be as passive as the dead.  Like the dead, active learning is a source of wonder and dread to some of the living.  (thanks to Jeremiah Parry-Hill for the nudge)”

Teaching Autopilot. “It was about the usefulness of autopilot. This one took me years to figure out. I don’t know if it’s a regular part of student success courses, but it should be. We usually talk about routine and creativity as if they were opposed. And they can be; too much routine for too long can be deadening. But for our students, too much routine is rarely the problem. If anything, they have far too little. Routine conserves mental energy. When I’m driving a route I know well, I can lose myself in a fascinating podcast and be fine. When I’m driving a complicated route I don’t know, I have to turn all sounds (other than the GPS) off. I don’t have the bandwidth to handle both.”

Why the Future of Adult Learning Is Mobile Learning. “When it comes to edtech, we still seem to be stuck in a web-first – as opposed to mobile-first – world. Adult learning may be different. I’m here to say that the future of adult learning is mobile learning.”

3 Small Technology Advances That Would Change My Life. “3 – The Ability To Easily Borrow and Lend Digital Books: I have so many digital books. I want to share my digital books with you. I’d love nothing better than to be able to lend my digital books – one book at a time to a single person. The problem is that since selling my soul to Jeff Bezos, and buying all my books through Amazon and reading all my books on an Amazon device or app, I can no longer share my books. Amazon has a very limited and totally lame digital book lending system – a system that I’ve given up trying to understand.”

This Rant is for Social Scientists. “I don’t know how else to put this: it’s immoral to study poor people and publish the results of that study in journal run by a for-profit company that charges more for your article than what the household you studied has to buy food this week. I cannot think of any valid excuse for publishing social research this way. Because you don’t have to. SocArXiv makes it easy to share your research. Your institution may have a public research repository. There are open access journals that don’t charge authors and have the same peer review standards as other journals. You can reserve the right to share your work, and we’re finding sustainable ways to fund public knowledge. Will it take a little more of your time? Yeah, it’s a cultural shift, which is obviously complex, and you’re so busy.”

Such a Waste. “My choices were to grind away at a schedule that was going to drain my spirit and kill this thing that I found so meaningful or to quit. And it makes me even angrier when I think about how my situation is entirely unspecial, that every year we flush so many people out of education because there aren’t enough lines, or they don’t fit within the lines we draw. I’ve personally known dozens of these people over the years, people who wanted to contribute, who did contribute, but ultimately had to make the choice to leave.”

The Success of Evidence-Based Policies. “A new Council of Economic Advisers report released yesterday examines the administration’s record, finding that evidence-based policies implemented over the last seven years have already begun to pay off. Investments in greater financial aid, in particular, have had high returns. The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that the administration’s increase in the average Pell Grant award between 2008-09 and 2014-15 will lead to an additional $20 billion in aggregate earnings, a nearly two-to-one return on the investment.”

Survey: Barriers to Improving Student Success. “Findings include: On a scale from one to seven, faculty resistance to change (4.96) ranked as the greatest cultural obstacle to improving student outcomes, followed by strategies and programs not designed based on rigorous evidence (4.89) and pressure to score a high placement in college rankings (4.71).”

National Default Rate on Student Loans Declines for Third Straight Year. “The overall three-year cohort default rate on federal student loans dropped in newly released data, marking the third straight year the rate has fallen, the U.S. Department of Education announced on Wednesday. The percentage of borrowers who defaulted on federal loans within three years of entering repayment dropped from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent for those who started repayment between the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years.”

Interpreting what is Required for “Regular and Substantive Interaction.” “As greater numbers of students move into online and competency-based education programs, we have seen new interest in understanding the Department of Education’s regulations. In particular, faculty and administrators seek to understand how the Department interprets rules requiring courses to include ‘regular and substantive interaction,’ especially in distance and competency-based education. Those of us in online education have long known that interaction between faculty and students as well as among students in both online and face-to-face courses can be the difference in whether a course is a quality learning experience. In fact, ensuring meaningful interactions among class participants should be a priority for any modality—be it face-to-face or online. Unfortunately, there continues to be a great deal of confusion around how the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General narrowly defines ‘regular and substantive interaction.’”

PEARSONalized Learning. “Second, many of the most interesting and valuable patterns that need to be spotted in any class that has a human teacher are the ones that happen at least partly outside of the digital content. No amount of rich metatagging will solve that problem. You will always need human scientists to make sense of what’s happening in the digital part of the education by looking at the analog part. Most publishers (though not Pearson, ironically enough) have been very slow to understand that this kind of anthropological data science work is a core competency for their business now. Mr. Hitchcock’s comments strongly suggest a basic lack of understanding of teaching, which is deeply worrying given his senior role in the company and apparent ability to get press access.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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