ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

State Spending on Higher Education Continues Slow Improvement. “But even with those examples, the spending trend over five years is another small sign of improvement, said the survey’s authors: Thirty-five states are spending more on higher education this year than they did five years ago, according to the Grapevine project’s figures. Last year’s results showed that half of the states were spending less than they were five years earlier.”

‘A Trust Network’ for Scholarship. “A group of liberal arts colleges and research universities are exploring how they could share expertise and services through a Digital Liberal Arts Exchange, easing the burden on colleges to be jacks-of-all-trades and allowing them to specialize in what they do best.”

Mired in Mediocrity. “Congeniality is not collegiality. Many boards suffer from being overly polite and deferential — both of which result in mediocrity. In contrast, the best colleagues take each other on, pushing each other’s thinking and debating ideas, all in the spirit of advancing the common good. High-performing boards do not shy away from difficult conversations and conflicting views and ideas. Instead, they understand that such messy, if not uncomfortable, dialogues are essential to understanding complex issues and eventually lead to better decisions. And at the end of the day (or board meeting), those trustees are able to put aside their differences and move ahead.”

What Do You Advise Amy to Take? “Within the realm of the more traditional vertical transfer, though, I get twitchy when I read about “leaky pipelines” and community colleges. That language assumes that it’s essentially an engineering problem; it isn’t. It’s largely a political problem. … Here’s a riddle we face every single day on my campus. … Amy wants to get her degree at the community college and transfer on for a bachelor’s, but she isn’t sure yet where she wants to go. Hypothetical State U wants her to have taken US History, Pre-calc, and a year of a foreign language. St. Somebody wants her to have taken European History, Statistics, and a separate diversity course. Meanwhile, Respected Private College wants her to have taken World Civ, Calc I, and a service learning course. What do you advise Amy to take? Multiply that dilemma by more receiving institutions, chains of prerequisites, student preferences, and majors, and you begin to get the idea.”

The Future Is Now. “These experimental sites disaggregate the post-secondary pathway as we know it into scalable and affordable verticals of connected educational experiences that can begin in high school and persist throughout a lifetime. In order to drive exponential increases in student engagement, retention and post-program success, our future models reinvent every facet of the learning experience, from the way that curricula and educational experiences are designed, developed, and delivered, to the services that support students along their educational journey, to how student learning is monitored and assessed.”

What Leaders Can Learn From Teaching Undergraduates. “After the first class I realized that I had forgotten how difficult and time-consuming teaching is. My knowledge of what I taught — mainly Supreme Court cases — was sometimes a mile wide and an inch deep, and other times an inch wide and a mile deep. Experienced teachers need both depth and breadth, and that takes time, as does meeting with students outside the classroom, writing letters of recommendation, and so forth. That’s why we administrators must respect reasonable teaching loads, sabbaticals, and professional-development time. But experienced teachers also know that just because you teach it, doesn’t mean students will learn it. The hard part is cultivating learning.”

Facing growing scrutiny, colleges set out to prove their value. “And that’s not the only thing they’re measuring. The Council of Independent Colleges produced a detailed 56-page report in the fall contending that the private, nonprofit institutions it represents are more efficient at turning out graduates than public institutions, since most of their students finish on time and at a lower cost to taxpayers than their counterparts at public universities.”

Education spending gap widens between college haves and have-nots since recession. “The 2008 recession ended up increasing this gap between the haves and the have-nots for two reasons. Jobs were scarce and more young adults on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder — who, in a stronger economy, might have obtained blue collar or service-sector work — decided to go to school. Community colleges, with their open enrollment policies, took them in. At the same time, cash-strapped state legislatures cut funding to public colleges and universities. Elite flagship universities responded by raising tuition, thus increasing the financial burden on students or their families. … Community colleges also increased tuition to replace taxpayer support. But they largely cater to low-income students … So community colleges couldn’t fully replace the shortfall by raising prices. Instead they had to educate more students with less money.”

The First Step to Improving Outcomes Is to Notice Them. “In particular, I think people should make an effort to really notice the outcomes of their actions. Too often, we’re in such a rush to get to whatever comes next, that we don’t really notice what just happened. That’s a problem — not because living in the moment will make us happier and healthier (although, for all I know, it might) — but because it deprives us of a chance to learn from our actions.”

Feeding English Majors in the 21st Century. “The idea was to analyze the representation of literary types in contemporary fiction and learn how the skills associated with that analysis can lead to fulfilling and economically viable lives for nonfictional English majors — i.e., my students. Throughout the semester, they demonstrated not only their hunger for, but also their creative uses of, such an education. The experiment has become my modest proposal for how we can recast the crisis in the humanities as an opportunity to show the real-world value of non-STEM disciplines.”

Digital Distractions. “Students also overwhelmingly support using devices in the classroom, with about 90 percent of respondents saying devices should not be banned. The students base their support mainly on two beliefs: that they can use devices without being significantly distracted, and that they should be free to use their devices whenever they want. A smaller number of students said whatever they use the devices for outweighs the distractions it may cause (12.8 percent), or that they simply can’t stop themselves from looking (11.5 percent).”

Teaching Ourselves to Teach. “Many professors would like to improve their expertise in leading discussion classes and lectures so as to foster understanding, deep engagement with the material, curiosity and wonderment, and a passion for lifelong learning. They want especially to foster students’ capacities to exercise the judgment they need to apply their learning to their lives and work. But college and university teachers — any teachers — can only develop the judgment that expertise requires the way any expert develops such judgment: by working with mentors, coaches and colleagues to continually reflect on their own practice of teaching.”

Review and Promotion, Tenure and Technology. “Four decades into the “continuing” technology revolution in higher education, most institutions still ignore the instructional IT activities of individual faculty members who would like their efforts to make innovative and effective use of IT resources in instruction considered as part of their scholarly portfolio in the review and promotion process.”

Learning Is Liberation. “I thought about this last week when I read Kelly J. Baker writing in Chronicle Vitae about ‘Teaching As Liberation,’ in which she asks, ‘Do we as faculty practice education as a way to free students or control them?’ The key word in that sentence is ‘practice.’ Even if I believe that the purpose of education is to free students, do I engage in my work in a way that supports that belief? I recognize not everyone agrees that education should be a vehicle to ‘free’ students. This is apparent in the reflexive backlash one sees against all forms of student protest.”

The Value of the Unpredictable. “When we harness a variety of data points to characterize a student’s capacity to learn, when we use predictive analytics to guide the kind of learning experiences they will be provided, we’re basing their placement in the system on what we think we already know about students. Some of what we already know is likely to be wrong because it’s shaped by biases we don’t even perceive. Some if will be wrong because we’re making decisions about what comes next before a student has a chance to find their feet. … How will students ever have the kind of life-changing moment that John Warner describes if all the data fails to predict it and guides them instead toward activities better suited to their past record?”

A Different Kind of Diversity Fear. “But when you actually have to make decisions — almost always with limited resources, imperfect information, and conflicting goals — there comes a point when you just have to jump in with both feet. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than doing nothing. Over time, those improvements add up. Taking the criticism, gleaning what’s useful in it, and moving forward is part of the job. If you’re allergic to criticism, you won’t get anything done. I think that diversity is like that, too. Although some people like to behave as if perfection were possible, it isn’t. People have blind spots, hobbyhorses, and emotional histories. [T]hat’s the starting point. But getting beyond the starting point requires a certain willingness to be publicly awkward.”

Online students need more face-to-face time, not less. “Together, these findings suggest that large numbers of college students need more, not less support from their teachers; yet, perversely, many online courses ask students to teach themselves. This request may be reasonable when it is aimed at well-prepared students who have the habits necessary to succeed, and most discussions about the potential benefits of online learning are held with these college-ready students in mind. For the millions of students who arrive underprepared, however, many from families with no higher education experience, college or university is a place they go to learn how to learn. It is unlikely that even the most responsive technologies can replace the kind of student-teacher interaction that both hard data and anecdotal evidence indicate are vital in motivating and inspiring such students to succeed.”

Colleges Must Address Debt Challenges. “Students from low-income families constitute only 20 percent of all college students and are a meager 13 percent of those attending public research universities. Even with financial aid, students from low-income households must still find a way to finance an average of $10,000 per year in remaining college costs. For many, it is an amount too large to overcome. Meanwhile, families that earn more than $60,000 a year almost never qualify for the federal Pell Grant program, and consequently families can expect to be responsible for at least the first $20,000 in school costs every year, as outlined this year in Time magazine. By reducing or eliminating that debt, universities can open doors to access and affordability and advance student success, especially for students from underrepresented communities.”

Robot-Proof: How Colleges Can Keep People Relevant in the Workplace. “To flourish in such an economy, all students — regardless of their academic inclinations — will require a new literacy, supplementing their specializations with studies from other parts of the curricular spectrum. That literacy includes quantitative skills as well as humanities such as art and design. It broadens students’ viewpoints, pushes them to make connections, and helps them contemplate the deeper truths of human existence. Above all, it encourages exploration, hence creativity. Creativity doesn’t arise according to a rational sequence of steps. It strikes as the mind sifts through a wide range of concepts and experiences.”

Computer Science, Meet Humanities: in New Majors, Opposites Attract. “CS+X degrees may not be meant for students who want to do deeply technical work as programmers, but rather for those who want to use data collection to analyze topics such as politics, society, and the environment, says Jim Kurose, assistant director for computer and information science and engineering at the National Science Foundation. As computer science becomes a more ‘outward-facing discipline,’ he says, majors that mix it with the humanities will be here to stay.”

The Limits of Facts in Teaching. “Facts, it seems, are not as effective as we think they are. Some of the implications of their research for teaching seem obvious: We cannot assume that telling students facts will result in learning. When students come into the classroom with misperceptions about the course topics — particularly when they have strong beliefs about those topics — we should not assume that merely correcting them will have the desired effect. While many college instructors have moved away from a lecture-based, knowledge transfer model of education to more student-centered approach, I worry that many of us still fall back on telling students facts and assuming that’s enough to educate them. It’s not.”

The alchemy of ed tech. “Just to be clear – I am NOT saying ed tech is rubbish. I love ed tech. It has provided genuinely new ways of teaching and reaching different audiences. It can solve very specific issues and offer lots of benefits for learners. My objection here is to the overblown claims, and the often unspoken alchemic tradition that persists in ed tech. The way to combat this is openness (of data, algorithms, claims, results), focusing on very specific problems to address (instead of grand revolutions) and calling bullshit when we see it. Like alchemy I fear we will waste time, effort, money and good minds on the pursuit of a really big, unattainable goal instead of focusing on smaller, actually achievable ones.

Seven Lessons Learned From Implementing Micro-credentials. “Lesson #2: Micro-credentials encourage teachers to apply skills to classroom practice Often in professional development opportunities, teachers are asked to make applications to case studies or hypothetical students. The purpose of these activities is to provide scaffolding so that teachers will then be able to go back to their classrooms and make the applications to their own students. However, whether or not those connections are made is often unknown; and data suggests teachers do not often change their practice after professional learning experiences (Yoon, et. al. 2007). Micro-credentials enable professional learning providers to see the connections teachers made to their own practice by asking teachers to submit artifacts that demonstrate how they have integrated the practice into their classrooms.”

3 Principles for Student Devices in the Classroom. “The second principle is that any technology use in the classroom should be intentional. … A good use of technology in the classroom is to facilitate active learning. Laptops, tablets, phones, and the web (but especially laptops) are great for creating things. Use class time to have students or groups do research, create quick presentations, and lead classroom discussions. An amazing amount of actual work can be accomplished during class time – especially if the professor can walk around and coach. This method is much closer to how today’s students will use technology in their jobs.”

Four Percent. “At a really basic level, instructional costs are per section, not per student. If a section that ran with 30 students last year runs with 29 this year, the enrollment is down a little over three percent. But it costs the college just as much at 29 as it did at 30. The room is the same, the instructor is paid the same, all of the support services are the same. Enrollment is down, but cost is not.”

Mixed Ruling on For-Profit Rules. “Toby Merrill, who directs the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School and advocated for tougher regulations, said that the ruling was ‘a substantial vindication’ of the rules. She pointed out that although two provisions were invalidated by the court, the for-profit college group did not challenge the underlying authority of the state to create the rules in the first place.”

Save the Bunnies! ” The founding assumption of community colleges as a sector is that the epistemology behind exclusion is false.  We don’t know who will succeed until they have a chance.  Ability sometimes wears disguises.  The way community colleges discern ability is by letting people in and giving them a chance to show what they can do.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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