ED MAP: Insights Blog

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

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Here are some industry articles that caught our eye recently.

Building a Bridge Between Engineering and the Humanities. “We know that engineering and the humanities differ not just in subject matter but in the very kinds of thinking they encourage. So the question is not just what information from each domain might be useful to the other, but also what each could learn by imagining the world in a whole new way.”

Every Student Gets a Mentor. “The goal of the mentoring program is to help liberal arts students navigate that world. They will seek out mentors with similar career interests, but mentors will also be expected to help students figure out bigger, more personal questions: what they want to do, whom they aspire to be, what they want to achieve. Picture a line graph, Williams said. The horizontal axis is measured in years, while the vertical axis is measured in utility. However students define utility — how much money they make, their impact on the world — they come to college to achieve those goals more quickly.”

Analyzing Analytics at the University. “Learning analytics, or analytics within the context of higher education, are equally ubiquitous. Every time a student uses a learning management system like Blackboard or submits a paper through an online plagiarism program, their data is being filed away by the university to be mined for information on student learning, engagement, and achievement.”

When Student Preferences Don’t Align. “We can, and do, share occupational information with students. We help them pick fields based on both their own preferences — I’m a big fan of career counseling in the first semester, and even before enrollment — and on where the opportunities are likely to be. We mandate ‘gen ed’ courses to help even the most specialized students pick up some of the “soft skills” that often make the difference between success and failure. We offer “major fairs” to students, so they can see what’s available and where the various options lead.  We work with local employers to ensure that our curricula are relevant and up-to-date. And we track placements, to provide a reality check. But at the end of the day, students want what they want.”

Hacking the Library-Publisher Partnership at MIT. “Under new direction, the Libraries and the Press are revisiting their own missions and core values, and have converged in part around the principle of adaptability. Namely, both organizations share the aims to actively engage in the changing technologies, practices and policies around creating and sharing information; embrace an entrepreneurial ethos that welcomes thoughtful risk taking and is not afraid to learn from failures; and adapt continually to the changing needs of the communities they serve”

New Credential Aims to Make Professors Into Better Teachers. “Maria C. Maisto, president of New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for contingent academic workers, said the new credential poses a bigger question regarding the quality of a professional degree. ‘Why are we not putting more energy and resources into improving graduate education rather than creating this whole new credential?’ she asked. Ms. Maisto added that she worried that the company was dealing with the symptoms of the degradation of teaching quality and not the root causes, which she sees as the prevalence of the contingent teaching model and poor working conditions.”

‘Breakpoint’ in Higher Ed. “At the same time, though, the scale and complexity of operations at most colleges and universities today demands much greater emphasis on strong decision-making leadership skills. The speed of change has accelerated, the needs and expectations of our students have grown, and the pressure to satisfy a remarkable array of interests has increased. As a result, we have to be more attentive than ever to the ways in which we make decisions and the trade-offs those decisions demand. That does not require that we become linear command-and-control enterprises — that has not proven to work well in American higher education. But it does demand that we adapt our shared governance and decision-making practices to different conditions to ensure that we continue to advance our values and serve students and a common good.”

Students Aren’t Coddled. They’re Defeated. “When I ask them if they think they’re going to have to know how to write in their jobs and careers, most answer in the affirmative. But here’s the most important thing: they do not believe that their college composition course has any relationship to that need. Other than its credentialing function, much of school is viewed as unrelated to their futures.”

Amazon OER? “This could be very good or very bad. But I’m leaning towards very good. On one level, of course, it’s fourteen kinds of awesome. I’m a big fan of OER, but I know that one of the major barriers to widespread adoption is the difficulty in finding material. Combining Amazon’s considerable skill at user-friendly search, and user reviews, with a repository of freebies would make exploration much easier.”

How Venture Capital Misses the Boat With Higher Education Technology. “Watters also expressed concern about the use of learning analytics in education. Schools are gathering lots of data without really thinking through what they want to measure and why, she believes. She said some efforts have ported over a Google analytics model — how many visited a site and clicked, and did it lead to a metric tied to the bottom line. That hasn’t got anything to do with learning, she insisted.”

Student Autonomy, Compliance, and Intrinsic Motivation. “Many empirical studies have shown that excessive control from strict, negative rules and punishments and extrinsic rewards for doing the ‘right thing’ can achieve short-term compliance. But there are costs: It undermines intrinsic motivation, it decreases the overall quality of performance, and it connects continued performance to the availability and delivery of rewards.”

Amazon, OER, and SoundCloud. “For over a decade and a half we’ve focused on getting OER into central sites that everyone can find. Or developing “registries” to index all of them. The idea is if ‘everyone just knows the one place to go’ OER will be findable. This has been a disaster. It’s been a disaster for two reasons. The first is that it assumes that learning objects are immutable single things, and that the evolution of the object once it leaves the repository is not interesting to us. And so Amazon thinks that what OER needs is a marketplace (albeit with the money removed). But OER are *living* documents, and what they need is an environment less like Amazon.com and more like GitHub. (And that’s what we’re building at Wikity, a personal GitHub for OER).”

Scaling Online Learning: Obstacles on the Way to the Summit. “The ways in which universities have traditionally developed and delivered the curriculum virtually guarantee that costs will grow, quickly outstripping gains in revenue. This structural obstacle is deeply rooted in the historical governance models of universities, in which faculty serve as content, learning design, and teaching approach architects. Although most higher education faculty are experts in their discipline, very few have a background in learning science, learning design or teaching effectiveness. This is not to blame the faculty. Indeed, higher education institutions are realizing the need to provide expertise and support in these critical areas.”

The Responsibility of Schools of Education in Preparing Teachers to Teach With Tech. “Some of the blame lies at the feet of entrepreneurs and investors who are just beginning to incorporate end-user and teacher perspectives into product design. The dearth of data to help educators understand what works is another, well documented part of the problem. But we are naive, as academics and educators, if we fail to consider the dismal record of higher education when it comes to preparing a generation of teachers and leaders charged with shepherding our edtech revolution.”

Reflecting on School Reforms: Scaling Up versus Short, Happy Life or Hanging in. “There is, however, another way of looking at innovations and school reform historically. This way-of-seeing, anchored in the complexity of classrooms, schools, and districts, builds in high degrees of interaction between and among staff, parents, and community to cope with inexorable political changes that occur inside and outside the district and school. Such a way of conceptualizing reform recognizes that people who work in these complex, interactive community institutions don’t scale up reforms easily or quickly because contexts differ, resources dry up, determined people work hard and create success and, over time, get fatigued and leave. Even the very best results cannot be sustained without further changes in what worked initially.”

Weighing the Evidence of New Instructional Policies, Practices, and Behaviors. “We’ve got pedagogical research occurring in virtually every discipline. That’s wonderful, but it’s not without some serious issues. Studies done in classrooms by faculty are usually one-of-a-kind analyses. It’s one version of an instructional strategy that likely has many permutations; it’s being used with a particular kind of content at a particular brand of institution and its effects are being studied via a unique cohort of students. Unless it’s a big, cross-disciplinary, cross-institution analysis, giant generalizations are not in order.”

6 Major Barriers Impeding Technology Adoption in Education. “Also carrying over from the previous year’s report, blending formal and informal learning was cited as an important but solvable challenge for education. The idea is that, right now, students’ informal learning experiences are not well integrated into formal learning, and this is a missed opportunity to foster experimentation and help develop creativity in students.”

The Wisdom of Robert Boice, Part II. “To begin with, Boice observes, gently, that “classroom incivilities often start with teachers’ own incivilities, however unconscious.” When we stalk into the classroom with a frown, avoid eye contact and chitchat, and immediately “get down to business,” we may think think we’re being cautious and professional, but Boice suggests we’re also being uncivil. When we mock our students for grade-grubbing, use guilt or shame to motivate them, or communicate disdain for our students’ tastes and enthusiasms, we don’t win any extra professional respect. And finally, when we speak too fast to be understood and deny students the opportunity to ask questions, we communicate an indifference to their learning that is perhaps the most uncivil attitude a teacher can express.”

After Customer Feedback And Further Delays, Blackboard Changes Learn Ultra Strategy For LMS. “Basically Blackboard has been decided to reconceptualize Ultra. Originally viewed as minimalist, simple and elegant LMS for the majority of faculty, the feedback from technical preview schools has been “tell me when it’s done”. Blackboard leadership believes that schools are insisting on feature parity between Ultra and Learn 9.1. So the plan now is to find a more cohesive mix of Learn experiences.”

How a ‘Syllabus Commons’ Could Change Higher Education. “ So far the Syllabus Explorer does only a few things: It shows how often works are taught, what works are taught together, and where and in what field they’re taught. But we think it has the potential to evolve into something more powerful: a tool that can help us better reflect on what colleges teach and improve the quality of higher education globally. The Explorer provides a rich empirical account of teaching across colleges and universities and — when the data is good enough — at a state-by-state and institution-by-institution level. It introduces a novel publication metric based on how often works are taught — adding some much-needed complexity into the metrics used to evaluate the influence of scholarly work.”

Librarians Find Themselves Caught Between Journal Pirates and Publishers. “Academics are increasingly turning to websites like Sci-Hub to view subscriber-only articles that they cannot obtain at their college or that they need more quickly than interlibrary loan can provide. That trend puts librarians in an awkward position. While many are proponents of open access and understand the challenges scholars face in gaining access to information, they are also bound by their contracts with publishers, which obligate them to crack down on pirates. And while few, if any, librarians openly endorse piracy, many believe that the scholarly-publishing system is broken.”

The New F Word. “Recently, Adam Grant argued that if children are to be raised to be creative, they need the opportunity to be original, which is difficult to achieve within many school systems and in an age of the over-structured childhood. I would add that having a safe place to fail is probably just as important. So, this semester, for my own children at home and for the students that I teach, I’m not going to be afraid of the F word. In fact, I’m going to give them chances to fail at something so that they can then learn how to find creative solutions to improve.”

Winning on Developmental Ed. “We need robust data disaggregated by student groups to answer these and related questions. Once we have that information, we should focus on how best to engage and empower faculty members to find appropriate solutions. They are best equipped to lead efforts to design interventions that will benefit students with deep developmental needs and to bring those interventions to scale. It is essential to put faculty and staff members at the center of this process and to ensure that they have enhanced professional development opportunities so they can have the greatest impact.”

Starting From Scratch. “This New America white paper proposes a new relationship between the states and the federal government. These reforms will create powerful incentives for state governments to end the financial disinvestment that has been steadily hollowing out America’s great public university and community college systems. They will hold all colleges–public, private, and for-profit– equally accountable for enrolling low-income students and giving them a good education at an affordable price. And they will ensure that every single college student in America will only have to pay his or her expected contribution for college, halting the spread of indebtedness once and for all.”

Q&A: NMC’s Samantha Becker on the Future of Higher Ed Tech. “It was also refreshing to write about the challenge ‘Balancing Our Connected and Unconnected Lives.’ I know some people still associate the NMC Horizon Report purely with technology advocacy, but it really is about how educational technology use can be in the service of implementing innovative approaches to teaching and learning. What kinds of learning experiences can technology foster that would not be replicable without the technology? Helping both educators and students navigate the path of mindful technology use is tricky, but higher education institutions must lead the way.”

In Defense of Essays. “But if our goal is to teach students to read critically, ask questions, perform meaningful analysis, marshal arguments, draw conclusions and communicate complex ideas — the most “real-world” skills of all — then there’s no replacing the essay. You may not be able to “bullshit a line-ID,” but you also can’t fake the skills essay writing requires. Those habits of mind are hard to learn and hard to teach — but they’re the most important approaches that students acquire in college.”

Make a Better Writing Assignment by Design. “Scaffolding means structuring a sequence of learning activities so students have enough guidance to build upon their previous skills in order to learn new ones. Although scaffolding has been part of educational theory for a long time, it’s still really useful as a way of thinking about how to link together the different assignments in your course to create a more coherent and structured learning process for students. There are a lot of strategies out there to scaffold learning activities. The basic idea is breaking things down so that you can meet students where they’re at, and provide guidance and support as they reach for the next learning milestone.”

Getting What You Pay For. “In high-enrollment classes, over time, sample sizes get big enough that random variations in student quality across sections cancel each other out. ‘Norming’ workshops for faculty are great first steps to ensuring consistency. I’ve seen English departments do it, though I don’t think it’s unique to them. Give everyone a few sample papers and have them assign grades; then discuss, as a group, why it got the grades it did. If someone is applying completely different standards than everyone else — even if with the best of intentions — it will come to the surface, and could occasion a really useful departmental conversation about expectations.”

UNC Learning Technology Commons: Easing the procurement problem with NGDLE. “The Learning Technology Commons app marketplace approach driven by end-user reviews wants to level the playing field and avoid the problem of only enterprise systems filtering through procurement, separated from what faculty really want to use. Jim Groom’s description of the 4VA multi-million dollar video conferencing is a prime example. The Commons takes a lightweight approach that should make it easy to get apps approved for consistent terms and conditions and do less big-company filtering.”

JoAnn Rollins

JoAnn Rollins
Ed Map Director of Communications

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