ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Missing the Mark on Enrollment and Revenue: No Easy Fix. “That most colleges reported hitting their enrollment or revenue targets heartens Rick Staisloff, who consults with colleges on finance and strategy. But significant shares of all respondents — 40 percent of public and 42 percent of private colleges — increased spending on financial aid, and that worries him. So does the fact that more than a third of private colleges this year reported a higher discount rate, the average share of tuition covered by institutional aid. Those are problems, Mr. Staisloff says, given already high discount rates and financial-aid budgets. But even after a few years of poor enrollment and budget deficits, he says, colleges can turn things around. The first bad year should shake people up and push them to reconsider old standards like the college’s academic portfolio.”

How Do You Measure a Good Teacher, Anyway? “At the heart of good teaching is some kind of understanding of what goes on between instructor and student. The interaction is not an ineffable mystery, but it’s not easily quantified and measured either. ‘I question whether you can distill education leadership into a series of competency-based categories,’ said Bloomfield. Teaching is a people-centered profession, but Levine’s model keeps people at a literal distance and makes mentoring — which is so important to advancement — difficult. Competency-based teacher training elides the craft (to say nothing of the art) of teaching in favor of the science of the practice.”

Putting an End to ‘When Am I Going to Use This?’ “Our obsession with utility — and our childish demands for it to reveal itself immediately lest we ‘waste’ a precious second of our time that could be better spent watching Netflix — reveals our ugliest selves.”

Can a Professor Be Forced to Assign a $180 Textbook? “Bourget maintains that his choices are just as effective educationally and much less expensive — so he should have the right to use them. But the university says that it makes sense for courses that have multiple sections to all use the same textbooks. Both Bourget and the university say their positions are based on principles of academic freedom. The case is being closely watched by advocates of open educational resources (free online materials, commonly called OER) who see the dispute as a sign that they need to challenge not only traditional textbooks but traditional methods of selecting textbooks.”

Solving Yesterday’s Problems Constrains Tomorrow’s Solutions. “A lot of the innovation underway in CBE rests on adaptive learning technologies, powerful analytics and customer relationship management tools, learning science, and improved practices in everything from advising to learning design. But those advances — all emerging after the correspondence program abuses of 20 years ago — are unacknowledged in the OIG’s report. And the report’s authors continue to use time as a proxy for learning, as when they use phrases like, ‘even though the applications described the proposed programs as self-paced ….’ Pacing is largely irrelevant in a direct-assessment world where outcomes, not seat time, matter.”

Begin By Listening. “One key message that resonated with me was to surround yourself with smart people who are not afraid to challenge you. That is one of the key advantages of working with tenured faculty –we have unlimited access to smart people who are not afraid to challenge us. If, as a sector, we could only get to the place where we see this as a strength, an asset, a true advantage! When we see our faculty as a unique asset, we are eager to give them the tools to better understand the business side of what we do and to weigh in on and help us develop solutions to the challenges we face.”

An Open Letter to Sherry Turkle On MOOCs and Online Learning. “What is lost in your conflation of MOOCs with traditional online courses is an appreciation of the degree to which online courses (and programs) are built around a pedagogical philosophy that is aligned with your main arguments in Reclaiming Conversation. A quality traditional online course is built to maximize instructor presence, a strategy undertaken in service of developing a relationship between the educator and the learner.”

No More Pencils, No More Books. “While the thinkers are arguing, textbook publishers are acting. With their traditional business models under pressure, they’ve begun to reinvent themselves as educational technology companies. They’re selling schools and colleges on a new generation of digital courseware—ALEKS is just one example—that takes on much of the work that teachers used to do. The software isn’t meant to replace teachers, they insist. Rather, it’s meant to free them to focus on the sort of high-level, conceptual instruction that only a human can provide.”

EDUCAUSE and Robot Tutors In The Sky: When investors are your main customers. “I am not one to argue against investment in ed tech, and I do think ed tech has growing potential when properly applied to help improve educational experiences and outcomes. However, there is a real danger when it is much easier for an extended period of time for companies to raise private investment or get bought out at high multiples than it is to establish real revenue models with end user customers – mostly institutions. The risk is that the VCs and private equity funders become the main customers and company marketing and product plans center on pleasing investors more than educators and students.”

Siding With the Villain. “In the CSU case, my objection is not that the department chose to assign a common book. It was within its rights to do so. My objections are that it chose without apparent regard to cost or to a conflict of interest. (I say ‘apparent’ because I wasn’t there.) It chose badly, which is fair game for criticism, but it was within its rights to choose. Historically, one reason for assigning common texts was actually to reduce textbook costs. When a common text is assigned, and held for multiple years, then a healthy market in used books can develop.”

Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age. “Learning as a collaborative, social activity. Educators are realizing that learning is much more effective when it is based on the understanding of students as active, engaged learners who benefit most when they take responsibility for their own learning and when they help one another learn. Corresponding instructional strategies that incorporate collaborative, problem-based learning in which students work together to develop solutions are being used effectively both inside and beyond the classroom. Numerous technologies now enable students to work together as dynamic, interactive learning groups on class assignments. Far beyond lecture and recall, these techniques are more effective because they incorporate the premise of experiential learning: learning by doing.”

Why Good Student Course Evaluations Are So Hard to Find. “What are student course evaluations for? If the answer to that were simple, it would be easier to design them. But student course evaluations — and administrator’s observations, for that matter — serve multiple purposes.”

Battling Misconceptions. “It’s one thing to want the public to have access to the information needed to make good decisions, but it’s another thing to do it. Start small. When your neighbor talks about how he heard on the radio that global warming isn’t really happening, have a conversation about it. When your aunt questions whether or not to vaccinate her children, speak up.  It’s true that these situations sometimes have to be approached with care, but if you approach it from the position of an expert providing information (maybe through a captivating story?) rather than an opponent trying to change a view, you may have more luck.”

Faculty: Why should we collaborate with campus librarians? “Many previous studies over the years have shown that library use leads to better grades and helps with student retention, and, therefore, faculty members should encourage their students to use the resources made available to them by libraries and incorporate these resources into their own curricula. ‘The findings support what academic librarians already know anecdotally: proactively engaging librarians in the work of teaching faculty, including research and curriculum development, is key to a robust working relationship that leads to better outcomes for students,’ said Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor at Library Journal. However, the report emphasizes that there is significant room for improvement.”

Flipping Lifts Learning Outcomes in Science Course. “A five-year experiment among students taking an upper-level undergraduate science course found that the flipped and active model improved student outcomes, particularly among females and students with lower grade point averages. The research at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Yale University suggested that the better outcomes were a result ‘in part [of] students interacting with course material in a more timely and accurate manner.’”

Affordable Learning at Scale With OER. “Creating capabilities. You have to make it easy and convenient for faculty to find and identify the right materials to use in their classes. If you don’t give them technology to simplify that part of the work, said Hanley, “forget it.” As an example, he pointed to the California Open Online Library for Education, or COOL4Ed, a joint project of Cal State, the University of California System and the state’s community colleges that focuses on identifying alternative class materials for the 50 most attended courses in those schools. One especially valuable search field allows the user to plug in the ISBN from a ‘big publisher textbook’ to receive a list of related free and open textbooks that address comparable learning objectives for that course.”

Google’s Court Victory Is Good for Scholarly Authors. Here’s Why. “This decision, despite the guild’s claim, is actually a substantial boon for authors, especially scholarly ones, for at least four reasons. First, the online project, called Google Book Search, has made it possible for researchers all over the world to find books that contain information of significance in response to search queries that Google users initiate. Google Book Search does precisely what the overwhelming majority of authors of books in research-library collections would want for their books: It rescues them from the obscurity of print collections and makes them more findable online.”

Low-Tech Innovation. “On Wednesday, though, I had two separate conversations about innovation on campus that I realized later had a common theme: tech and innovation aren’t the same thing. Innovation is really a function of audience. If something is new to the audience, it hits them as innovative, even if the performer knows what’s going to happen.”

We Can’t Train Students for the “Real World.” “I care deeply about the postgraduate outcomes that await my students, but I cannot train them for a career that will shape-shift throughout their lives. My advice to them is to be adaptable, to seize opportunities when they come, to plan and budget with maximum miserliness. I cannot train them for something that doesn’t exist, but I can help them build a set of skills and experiences that will make them flexible and self-regulating. I can model resiliency. I can encourage taking risks that may pay dividends.”

Something Old, Something New. “More and more IT offices are encouraging faculty members at their institutions to use free open educational resources over traditional textbooks. This year, 38 percent of respondents say they encourage the use of OER, up a few percentage points from last year across all institutions. The survey results estimate only 6 percent of courses over all use OER, but chief information officers see the course materials playing an important role in the future. A large majority of respondents, 82 percent, say OER will be an important source of course materials in five years.

Graduates of four-year universities flock to community colleges for job skills. “A surprising one out of every 14 of the people who attend community colleges — widely regarded as low-tuition options for the less-well-prepared — has already earned a bachelor’s degree, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. That’s 770,000 students. At some community colleges, the proportion is as high as one in five. Many bachelor’s degree holders attending community colleges are seeking new careers, especially in health-related disciplines such as nursing, while others are looking to upgrade their skills in computer-related professions or other job-rich fields including biotechnology.”

Articulating the Value Proposition in Higher Education. “Focused skills are critically important, but not sufficient. The skills necessary for a hypothetical tenth job may be harder to define but, if anything, more important. Those skills are trans-contextual, ones that we can say with confidence will be needed even as the workplace changes dramatically over the years ahead. While we may not be able fully to imagine this transformed workplace of the mid-twenty-first century, we know our students must be able to analyze carefully; to think creatively; to communicate clearly; and, perhaps most of all, to turn quickly accruing information into knowledge.”

Education Reform and the Failure to Fix Inequality in America. “The U.S. has made headway in educational opportunities with each generation, but improved access has thus far not served as an immediate salve for deep-seated societal problems. While resources for schools remain scarce in the current economic environment, traditionally disadvantaged populations continue to suffer the consequences.”

The 3 Most Important Numbers at EDUCAUSE 2016? “At EDUCAUSE 2016 we should be evaluating the efficacy of educational technology investments against their impact on our agreed upon set of measures.  We should be held accountable to demonstrate that our investments yield measurable returns. It is less important which outcome variables we choose, then that we choose something.  We need a common framework in order to understand our effectiveness.  This framework needs to be simple, consistent, and legible to all involved.”

The New Yorker Gets One Right. “The way to get the best outcome all around isn’t to ban them or to try to pass lawyer-proof regulations. It’s to outcompete them Flood the zone with well-funded public colleges with the staffing, the facilities, and yes, the marketing, to compete. Force the for-profits to compete on quality. Frankly, if they can prove they do a better job with students, I have no theological objection to them. … For-profits met a need. The way to beat them is to meet that need better. Austerity in the public sector cedes the field to people with other agendas.”

EdTech that connects: Learning relationship management systems. “Over the past few years, a new category of EdTech platform has popped up across K–12 and higher education called the learning relationship management system (LRM). LRMs join a larger wave of student-centered, next-generation infrastructure tools that put individual students—rather than instructors, courses, or compliance-driven data collection—at the center of learning systems architecture. Specifically, LRMs not only enable learning pathways that can guide students on individual paths to success, but also allow users to flex another resource often ignored in the course of instructional design and delivery: relationships.”

Colleges Want More Digital Courseware, Few MOOCs. “There is plenty of untapped demand, however, for digital instructional resources and adaptive learning products; over 94 percent of respondents believe these tools can deliver better student outcomes. But just 10 percent of general-ed courses currently use digital courseware—and only four percent use adaptive tools. And only six percent of courses make use of open educational resources (OER), even though 38 percent of respondents say their schools encourage faculty to do so.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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