ED MAP: Insights Blog

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


Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Students’ role in learning analytics: From data-objects to collaborators. “Considering the amount of student data higher education institutions have access to, and the fiduciary duty of higher education to address concerns about sometimes appalling rates of student failure (Slade & Prinsloo, 2013), lack of effective or appropriate student support and institutional failures – higher education cannot afford not to collect and analyse student data. Knowing more about our students raises however a number of ethical issues such as whether they know that we are observing them and analysing their online behaviours for clues to determine the allocation of resources, the need for intervention correlated with the cost of intervention and the probability that the intervention will have the necessary effect and therefore guarantee a return on investment.”

Introductory Course Improvements and ‘The Evolution of Everything.’ “There is a quiet revolution going on in our nation’s foundational introductory courses. The dominant pedagogical orientation across our campuses has moved from information transmission to active learning. Introductory classes throughout the US system are being redesigned to conform to research on how people learn.”

Tough Things. “More subtly, though, it’s about colleges having to compete for students. At the R1 level, students like the prestige of a name based on research and sports. We can argue the wisdom of that preference, but we can’t deny that it exists. At the community and state college level, cost-shifting to students means that enrollment drives budgets to a greater extent than it used to. Combine that with declining numbers of 18-year-olds, and the picture isn’t pretty. A college that tries to ignore expressed student preferences and ram cultural change down their throats will see its enrollments, and therefore revenues, crater. If we want colleges to be “tougher,” we have to enable them to be. That means restoring operating budgets in which tuition plays a far smaller role. Make them tuition-driven, and, well, you get what you pay for.”

Prometheus and the Pendulum: Why the University of Michigan Joined edX. “At Michigan we’ve embraced a digital innovation strategy that harnesses all we are learning from experimentation at the intersection of digital learning and learning analytics in order to redesign the residential education experience for this century and for this crowded and connected world. We see our partnership with edX as an opportunity to strengthen our ability to design and create far more inclusive environments for learning. Such environments will make the resources of the university available to the broadest possible range of learners, advancing the vision of equitable and advanced education for all.”

Blended Learning Meets the Ghost of Textbooks Past. “We think that for many teachers textbooks have played a key role: textbooks provided day-by-day, week-by-week direction on what instruction needed to be delivered. We think that the online marketplaces providing supplemental lessons are a wonderful resource – but those supplemental lessons don’t provide the underlying basal/comprehensive backbone that textbooks + teachers’ guides provided. We think there is a huge gaping hole that is crying out to be filled!”

Higher education agrees: Student graduation takes a village. “I would argue that there are three primary factors that influence a student’s potential to stay on track for graduation: cost, convenience, and outcomes-based programs measured against self-evaluation and peer review methods.”

My Community College Is Joining a University. “The problem is that, in my experience, whenever politicians say ‘community college,’ what they actually mean is ‘technical college.’ They’re not really talking about what you and I think of as college — they’re talking about training and work-force development. And that appears to hold true, by the way, regardless of political party. There’s certainly nothing wrong with technical colleges, or with work-force development, for that matter. … It’s just that, when we redefine ‘community college’ to mean ‘technical college,’ we risk leaving out all of those students who desire a traditional college education but either can’t get into a four-year college initially or can’t afford the tuition.”

61 Ways You Know You Are Talking to an Instructional Designer. “21. They believe that technology is a means and not an ends. 22. They are educators, not technologists.”

The High School/College Writing Classroom Disconnect. “When I make first contact with my students, I tell them that there are no rules anymore because they never existed in the first place, but there are guidelines and goals, and that the rules are to be rewritten each time they sit down to write in a particular rhetorical situation grounded in audience, genre, and purpose/occasion. I want my students to understand that writing is complicated, and that different choices must be made depending on different audiences or occasions, that sometimes “I” is a terrible idea, and sometimes it is absolutely necessary.”

Ready for Your Close Up?Be Vicious with Your Outline: Once you have an outline prepared, cut it in half. No seriously, in half. Online lectures, as a rule, should be significantly shorter than their physical counterparts. Offline lecture outlines include 1) places to pause, allowing students the opportunity to take notes, 2) extensive signposting of key themes, ensuring that students understand how the material fits together, and 3) repetition of important details, emphasizing material the students should understand. None of these things are necessary in online lectures—videos can be paused and replayed as many times as necessary. I promise that once all of that dross is removed from your lecture outline, your video lecture will be smooth, succinct, and shorter than you would expect.”

You yell barracuda. “ I was heartened though by a lot of the work I saw, particularly from Tidewater college. They had adopted open textbooks as part of the Z-degree, but what this had really allowed them to do was to transform their curriculum. They had created what, in effect, were distance learning courses, not unlike an OU course. Completely online, with lots of guidance for the learners, all the material they required was provided and it linked very closely to the learning outcomes.”

Cohorts and Critical Mass. “The folks who want community colleges to respond immediately when the economic winds shift often don’t understand this. Absent some sort of funding cushion, the nightmare scenario is that you start with 15 to 20. Turning away that many looks heartless and/or stupid; starting with that many virtually guarantees sustained losses. If we want community colleges to be more entrepreneurial and to take more risks like these, they need the funding to do it.”

4 critical steps when venturing on the competency-based path. “Today, factors beyond skill deficits are driving the demand for competency-based education. Traditional and nontraditional students alike are looking for faster, more flexible, and more cost effective ways to achieve their academic goals. At the same time, institutions facing declining enrollments and retention rates are looking at CBE as a way to attract more students and keep them on track for graduation.”

Student Course Evaluations and Impact on Active Learning. “There is one additional problem with most student course evaluations that is not explicitly covered in the Chronicle articles – students newly involved in active learning approaches often rate the course and instructor poorly even if they end up learning more effectively. We saw this in our e-Literate TV case study at UC Davis. In a previous post we highlighted how the routine hard work required of students in active learning courses can lead to poor evaluations, but later in the interview student course evaluations came up as a major barrier to improving teaching practices.”

Is Open Education a Movement? “One of the subtleties of movement building is that you are always trying to move people further along the list from low ambition to high ambition. (Maybe that’s why they call it a movement.) If you’re an open education organizer, maybe somebody comes to your meeting for the first time because she is interested in using OER for her own class. You want to get her hooked. Maybe you want her to try open teaching practices in her own class. And then maybe you want her to show her colleagues what she’s doing and convince them to do the same. And then maybe you want her to organize her colleagues to go to the administration and advocate for college-level support for fostering open teaching practices. And so on. Your goal is to encourage her to move up from the thing that she cares about—the thing that brought her in the door—to the things that you and she both care about. Bigger things that you can only accomplish together. For me, part of what separates an actual movement from movement talk is having a clear ladder of ambition that forms the framework for movement organizing activities.”

Academic Leader Urges Colleges to ‘Take the Lead’ on Accreditation. “Ms. Schneider says the actions represent an opportunity for colleges to “take the lead in repositioning accreditation as a meaningful voice for high-quality college learning while we still can.” She argues that accrediting agencies must do a better job of publishing standards on learning outcomes”

A Higher Ed Elevator Pitch to Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. “What can be scaled are all those things that precede and surround advanced learning.  We can scale the development of foundational knowledge. We can scale the underlying administrative technologies that enable teaching and learning. We can even scale much of the assessment and credentialing aspects of higher education. What can’t be scaled is the educator / learner relationship that catalyzes questioning, new thinking, and mastery.”

The Irony of Higher Ed Marketing. “Academic research and market research are cousins at best. But the common thread is “research:” dissecting, quantifying, and analyzing reality so we can better understand a multifaceted challenge and make more informed decisions to address it. We can’t imagine a college or university that would build an academic program around faculty who haven’t conducted at least some scholarly research. But there’s every chance that market research is considered a “luxury” that your institution may be willing to relegate to the back burner in favor of funding a few more television spots or another billboard campaign.”

Learning, Not Wages. “In this scenario, Schneider says, the accreditors as a group would coalesce around a set of outcomes, the institutions they accredit would revamp their curriculums and learning pathways in ways designed to develop those key outcomes and then to assess their students’ progress in acquiring them.”

Middle States, Day One: Of Blind Spots and Respect. “The blind spot was especially egregious given the four imperatives he outlined. Serve more low-income students? Community colleges do that, and have done that for decades. Build a culture of completion? Community colleges have been focusing on that for years. Do more with less? Just for fun, let’s compare funding per FTE. Respond to changing demographics? What, exactly, do you think we’ve been doing?”

How Data From Your LMS Can Impact Student Success. “Each semester, the university scrutinizes its DFW rates. However, it’s not a simple matter of simply tracking the courses where the counts of failure and withdrawal are high. It’s also important to examine the outcomes students have as they go through gateway courses into other classes making up their majors. At UMBC, said Fritz, deans and faculty members are ‘data mining’ the courses where there’s a substantive difference in grades, ‘reverse engineering’ the teaching practices, and then trying to embed those practices into other courses.”

For Open Access Monographs, Peter Pays Paul. Who Pays Peter? “The problem that emerges from this situation — in which librarians are doing their job and doing it well — is that the monograph publishers find it increasingly difficult to continue to publish monographs. Those monographs serve not only as a form of scholarly communications (in which they make a tepid contribution if they are not read by an audience sufficient to support the books financially) but also as a means of certification. Without a published monograph, scholars in many fields at some institutions would find it hard to have successful tenure and promotion reviews. Enter the open access monograph. As a rule, open access is not so much an innovation as it is a capitulation — a capitulation, that is, in that it recognizes that the marketplace sets a high bar.”

Moodle Moves Give Hints of What a Post-Fork World Could Look Like. “On the Moodle HQ side of things, last week marked the official launch of the Moodle Association. … The non-profit Moodle Association provides a second route. Individuals and institutions can join the Association directly by paying a membership fee. That fee buys them votes toward possible Moodle development projects. The projects that get voted up, subject to a feasibility and relevance review by the Association’s governing body, get funded for development by HQ using membership dollars.”

It’s (Not) the Stupid, Stupid. “It’s tempting to think this is because libraries don’t profess anything or push an agenda – but they do. They stand for the value of public goods and shared resources. They stand for literacy and self-directed inquiry. They stand for the idea that citizens can make up their own minds without turning it into a contest of wills. That’s kind of radical these days.”

Is Understaffing the New EdTech Normal? “Higher ed tends to think of staff as costs, not assets, and this is reflected in how we think about hiring. What are the costs of running so lean with our edtech (and other department) staffing? Are we worried about burning people out? Are we worried that folks will not be able to spend time in preparing for what is coming next, as everyone is too busy managing the daily onslaught of tasks?”

Middle States, Day Two. “He noted the public focus on costs, and the eagerness of many policymakers to believe that financial aid is always immediately gobbled up by greedy colleges in the form of tuition increases. (That’s easily refuted by comparing average community college tuition to the maximum value of a Pell grant, but articles of faith easily survive mere facts.) He also noted the temptation for policymakers to resort to ‘bright line’ criteria in determining whether colleges are succeeding or not. To take the most obvious case, a ‘bright line’ graduation rate based on the first-time, full-time, degree-seeking cohort would be so badly misleading in the community college sector as to constitute a sort of malpractice. But many policymakers are so enamored of appearing tough that they don’t want to be bothered learning the fine points. We need to get better at telling our stories.”

Library Bound. “Broadly speaking, the new department’s mission is to teach students how to use information and technology to make well-informed decisions later in life, Smallen said — in other words, preparing them ‘for the world in which they’re going to live.’ The new department is also better positioned to support Hamilton’s growing Digital Humanities initiative and its consortium with three other liberal arts colleges to experiment with online education, among other projects that require both library and technology expertise, he said. The merger has also improved the flow of communication, Smallen said.

When More Is Less. “Effective writing practices — in particular interactive writing processes and clear expectations — had a small but significant impact on students’ perceived gains in learning and development (the equivalent of about 5 percent of additional explained variance). Quantity had no impact on perceived gains.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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