ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

What Open-Access Publishing Actually Costs. “At nonprofit publishers, sustainability can take on a different meaning. For the Open Library of the Humanities, Mr. Eve said, it means the ability to cover costs. Unlike commercial publishers, nonprofit open-access journals don’t have a traditional profit margin — but they also don’t break even. At the Open Library of the Humanities, surplus money goes toward a safety net, to be used for unforeseen costs. At PLOS, surplus money goes back into the organization.”

Are Elite College Courses Better? “The push to measure student learning outcomes and other attempts to gauge which institutions, programs and courses most help students learn have been motivated, in part, by skepticism about the assumption that the most famous and selective institutions deliver the highest-quality learning. But the quest for proof to the contrary has at times seemed quixotic.”

Reprimand Upheld for Professor Who Wouldn’t Assign $180 Text. “The panel found that the professor, Alain Bourget, indeed violated the university’s and department’s rules when he assigned another textbook (at a price of $75) along with free online materials in place of the more expensive choice of his department. But the panel also found that the mathematics department failed to follow the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors about imposing a departmental book choice on all faculty members who teach multisection courses.”

Troubling open education: from ‘Fauxpen’ to open. “Our uses of ‘open’ are context, discipline and most probably rhetoric specific… The fact that we use the same word is not necessarily advantageous. Even in the educational arena the notion of ‘open” means different things for different people – open educational resources, open education practices, open courses, open content. We therefore need to unpick the different nuances of ‘openness’ and think in terms of degrees of openness, continuums of social openness. We should therefore never forget that openness always happens in particular historical and local contexts. Defining and understanding ‘open’ is not simple at all.”

Meta-Majors, Sampler Platters, and Sneaky Ambition. “If the meta-major class is part of a package, it’s likelier to transfer. And if it helps students identify their interests early on, and thereby to make more strategic course selections as they go, it’s likely to reinforce the ‘guided pathways’ structure. In other words, we may not have to choose between ambition and safety. We could have both.”

In Defense of Instructure’s Sales & Marketing Budget. “The point that I want to make is that, in general, we in not-for-profit higher education invest far too little resources into marketing and communications. In general, we do not invest enough time, money, or energy into telling our stories. We treat communications, outreach, and marketing (yes – 3 separate and distinct activities) as afterthoughts. In higher education we are usually pretty good at education. We are not so good at communications.”

Op-Ed vs. Scholarly Journals. “As graduate students and thinkers-in-training, we owe it to society to find ways for our work to reach broader publics.  One way to do this is to engage in op-ed writing.  Scholars and graduate students investigate some of the most urgent issues in society.  Addressing these issues in op-ed pieces can have numerous benefits, a few of which are listed below: 1. Op-eds force you to be succinct.”

The Ever-Growing Ed-Tech Market. “Revenue from online courses for K-12 jumped 320 percent from the year before, in part because the definition of ‘online course’ has expanded. ‘We used to think of ‘online course’ as a stand-alone offered course like MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses), but now companies have really broadened to include any digital curriculum that can even be integrated within the classroom and with face-to-face work,’ said Karen Billings, vice president of the Education Technology Industry Network. ‘This reconceptualization could be a fundamental shift for the K-12 market.’ The testing and assessment market, which raked in $2.5 billion during the reported year, was the single largest category of any segment. The assessment market increased so quickly because of the growth of test-friendly Common Core standards a few years back when this data was being collected, Billings explained.”

How Data from your LMS Can Impact Student Success. “Fritz classifies LMS usage in three tiers. In the most basic tier the LMS serves as a document repository. In the second tier faculty use it for communications, such as announcements, chat and discussions. But where it ‘really goes off the roof’ is when the LMS is used for assessments – ‘quizzes, things like adaptive release, electronic collection of assignment.’ That ‘sets up a structure for student responsibility and self-awareness’ that isn’t typical, he noted. In talking about student success, ‘the conversation is almost always dominated by what an institution is doing for the student. ‘Check My Activity’ promotes student responsibility from a different angle.”

Asking What Students Spend On Textbook Is Very Important, But Insufficient. “That’s a high percentage of students avoiding textbooks, avoid or dropping courses, and performing poorly due to costs. And this type of data is only available by asking students. But overall, I suspect Mike and I are on the same page in terms of concerns – the crisis is real, we need pricing and expenditures, and poor or first-gen students might not have access to the same cost cutting measures. On that note, if you accept 2-year vs. 4-year schools as a proxy for the measure of poor / first-generation students, the NACS data backs up Mike’s point. 2-year students are far less likely to go get course materials for free.”

Asking What Students Spend on Textbooks Is the Wrong Question. “Most of all, the two lessons here are that Under scarcity, the best picture of need is going to be calculated backward from what is needed, not what is bought. Protests that students ‘in the know’ can make do can also doom students with less cultural capital to failure.”

Report Lends Support to ‘Corequisite’ Remediation. “Among the principles: that postsecondary education for all students starts with identifying the support needed to take credit-bearing gateway courses in their first year; that academic and nonacademic support is provided alongside the gateway courses; and that every student be supported on the path to earning a credential.”

Technology Is Not Enough. “At the institutions we studied, senior leaders controlled financial resources, shaped the institutional culture to encourage receptiveness to new technologies and had the authority to mandate use when necessary. Perhaps counterintuitively, the colleges with a presidential leadership approach were unsuccessful in achieving change, even though they had strong senior leaders. It was only when both senior and project leaders were aligned around an adaptive vision of change (a visionary leadership appro ach) that structures, processes and attitudes were altered.”

What Seems Obvious at First Glance Is, In Fact, Still Obvious When You Look Closely. “Where the “prestige” piece is more relevant is outside of class.  That’s where the ‘signaling’ piece of a selective degree comes into play.  But inside class, I’m not shocked to hear that the gap is small, when it exists at all.  And given the academic job market of the last twenty years, teaching-intensive places have been able to hire from the same pool that the elites have; by now, you can get “cognitively complex” faculty at every level.”

The Future of The Future of Higher Education. “And so the second way to envision the future of higher education is truly transformational by accepting that digital learning technologies may be better at transmitting information, thus allowing us to do our job of helping students transform knowledge. This would require a fundamental rethinking of what faculty do, of what students learn and how they document such learning, and what goals we want them to accomplish through such learning.”

Major Study Finds OER Students Do Just as Well – or Better. “The study involved 5,000 students using OER and more than 11,000 ‘control’ students using standard textbooks in courses at 10 different institutions around the country enrolled in 15 different undergraduate courses. It focused on five measures of student success — course completion, final grade, final grade of C- or higher, enrollment intensity and enrollment intensity in the following semester.”

The digital revolution in higher education has already happened. No one noticed. “There are more undergraduates enrolled in an online class than there are graduate students enrolled in all Masters and Ph.D. programs combined. At the current rate of growth, half the country’s undergraduates will have at least one online class on their transcripts by the end of the decade. This is the new normal.”

Why Personalized Learning Matters to a New Generation of Students. “Personalized learning, it turns out, is really about grappling with this overarching problem: educating the real people—not a generalization of students—who are coming into the classroom. One major challenge we face in US higher education is figuring out how to serve this wide variety of students. How do you aid recent high school graduates while at the same time dealing with working adults who are coming back to school? How do you improve remedial math success rates with students ranging from fourth grade levels of preparation to those just needing to brush up on a few minor skills?”

Better Residential Learning Is The True Innovation of MOOCs. “The most important innovations catalyzed by MOOCs have very little to do with technology, or even pedagogy. Rather, they are innovations at the level of institutional organizational and cultural change. Happily, these organizational and cultural changes all result in more attention andinvestment in residential learning. This outcome, that the real story of MOOCs is better (large enrollment) courses, is a story that outside of the edX (and other MOOC provider communities) is not yet widely understood.”

New Guide to Remediation. “Sixty-eight percent of community college students and 40 percent of students at public four-year colleges take at least one remedial course, and even more students are referred to developmental courses but never enroll in them, according to the Community College Research Center. Now a slate of national organizations and states are endorsing six principles, all in an effort to aid in transforming and improving remediation.”

What Schoology’s Venture Funding Means for the LMS Market. “I think there’s an opportunity for a new entrant to get a fair hearing from selection committees that want a real horse race but aren’t excited about any of the incumbents. Ironically, the rise and success of Instructure has probably reduced risk aversion among schools to go with a scrappy start-up. I don’t know if Schoology is going to be the one that gets a foothold in the market because of this opening, but their timing is definitely good.”

Accreditation Reformers Propose a Model of Their Own. “Entangled Solutions proposes measuring the ‘earnings boost’ students receive from attending a program, as well as job-placement rates 90 and 180 days after students leave the program. While such measurements may be more appropriate for coding boot camps and other programs specifically aimed at careers, Mr. Horn said he was confident the framework could be adapted to include gauges of ‘a whole host of social and emotional gains’ of the sort that traditional colleges might see as part of their mission for educating students. To assure consistency in those measures, the company also proposes creating an independent nonprofit organization to define common standards, such as how earnings gains are calculated. The organization would be modeled after the boards in the accounting industry that, for example, set rules for auditors on what counts as revenue.”

Baby boomers and the end of higher education. “A college degree has become much less affordable for families in recent years largely because public officials and college leaders have abandoned three basic elements of the original Higher Education Act: 1. States are getting out of the business of higher education.”

Our Republic Will Withstand College Students Protesting. “I understand this flies in the face of some of the ‘new PC’ and ‘coddled students’ narratives floating around, but I see those problems rooted in a culture where students expect authorities to protect them and solve their problems, as opposed to using their power to solve problems for themselves. If we want students to stop being “coddled,” we have to encourage them to self-advocate as strongly as possible.”

A Different Vision of the Bachelor’s Degree. “Briefly — and McCarthy’s report is well worth reading in its entirety — she calls for ‘flipping’ the bachelor’s degree. Instead of starting with broad “gen ed” classes and working towards narrower applications, we should start with applications and work upwards towards theories.  Build theories on actual context, at a point when students have some sense of why they matter. Theories may be deductive, but learning is inductive. Teach for learning.”

EdX Is An Idea. “The idea that a higher educational credential need not be scarce is a radical one. The idea of edX is that all of these scarcities of higher education can be broken apart, and tackled one-by-one. The idea of edX is that a (meaningful) higher education credential should be available to every person in the world, rather than the small minority that today can access an education that leads to a credential.”

Data To Back Up Concerns Of Textbook Expenditures By First-Generation Students. “First-generation students are somewhat more likely to worry about course materials (41% to 37%) than non first-generation students, but the view across sectors is more telling. 2-year college students are much more likely to worry about course materials (50% to 37%) than 4-year college students. Tuition is lower at 2-year schools, and fewer student live on campus or away from home. So it makes sense that course material concerns would increase in relative terms (% listing in top 3 concerns). It also makes sense how car payments / insurance / gas would be more important.”

The Practical Cost of Textbooks. “What impact does the cost of textbooks have on students? Textbook costs cause students to occasionally or frequently take fewer courses (35% of students), to drop or withdraw from courses (24%), and to earn either poor or failing grades (26%). Regardless of whether you have historically preferred the College Board number or the student survey number, a third fact that is beyond dispute is that surveys of students indicate that the cost of textbooks negatively impacts their learning (grades) and negatively impacts their time to graduation (drops, withdraws, and credits).

Pill-Splitting the Textbook. “What we’ve learned over the past five years or so in OER is that what we sell in the Open Textbook movement is not just reduced cost. It’s the simplicity that you can get when you’re not working with an industry trying to milk every last dollar out of students. It’s every student having their materials on day one, for as long as they like, without having to navigate “simple” questions of what to buy, what to rent, and when-is-the-book-on-the-syllabus-that’s-required-not-really-required.”

2 Big Books About Big Ideas. “Our practices and assumptions are embedded in ideas about efficiency, efficacy, and progress. We are the inheritors, and propagators, of a belief system that puts its faith in the ability of technology to address social, economic, political, and cultural challenges – including the challenges we face in our work in higher education. Any conversation about academic transformation and digital learning that is separated from the history of ideas about progress will be an impoverished conversation.”

Whose Journal is This, Anyway? “Who owns a journal is not a simple question. Asserting some sort of moral claim based on the intellectual labor involved and the guiding vision of a community of scholars won’t get us very far when push comes to shove, as it does. In which case, we may just have to start over, as the editors of Lingua (soon to be the editors of Glossa) have done. It’s a good example to follow.”

Time’s up: Full-time virtual charter schools must become transparent together. “iNACOL, the K–12 international online learning association, has already done much of the work of creating the dashboard of outcomes-based metrics on which full-time virtual charter schools should be judged. iNACOL has five criteria that it recommends policymakers judge full-time virtual charter schools by: individual student growth, proficiency, graduation rates, college and career readiness, and closing the achievement gap. These have not been implemented because no state system is truly set up to measure much of this at an individual student level … But the full-time virtual charter schools could set up the system in a voluntary way where they all use the same assessments that create valid and reliable comparisons.”

Interview with Josh Coates, CEO of Instructure, on today’s IPO. “We have four markets that we serve – domestic higher ed, domestic K-12, domestic corporate learning, and international markets. Right now our fastest growth is in corporate learning, but that product, Bridge, was just released in February. Just behind that market in terms of growth is domestic K-12, which is largely a green-field market; we’ve just gotten started. It’s interesting, but by customer count, domestic K-12 is our largest market. We have to do well and grow in all four markets.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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